Maria Full Of Grace

2004, Movie, R, 101 mins


American writer-director Joshua Marston's debut feature is a low-key, affecting portrait of a teenager trying to escape her family's relentless poverty by working as a mule, smuggling drugs internally out of Colombia into the United States. Seventeen-year-old Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) lives in an impoverished backwater not far from Bogota and supports her mother (Virginia Ariza), sister (Johanna Andrea Mora) and infant nephew by working at the local flower factory. She and her shy best friend, Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega), unambitious boyfriend, Juan (Wilson Guerrero), and virtually every other employed adult in town sort, de-thorn and bundle roses for export, closely monitored by a demanding and demeaning supervisor. The newly pregnant Maria nevertheless quits after a humiliating run-in, only to face intense family pressure to take whatever steps are needed to get rehired — a job is too precious to lose over a triviality like self-respect. Unwilling to marry Juan just because he thinks it's his responsibility to make an honest woman of his pregnant girlfriend, Maria decides to hitch a ride to Bogota and see if she can find house-cleaning work. But handsome acquaintance Franklin (Jhon Alex Toro) has a better suggestion. His friend Javier (Jaime Osorio Gomez) pays handsomely for couriers to transport film from Colombia to New York City. Maria knows perfectly well what "film" means, but a single trip would pay more than she could earn in years of stripping flowers. Tutored by veteran mule Lucy (Giulied Lopez), Maria and the less-resilient Blanca, who signs up despite Maria's best efforts to discourage her, ingest several dozen kumquat-sized pellets of cocaine apiece and board a plane to New Jersey, thinking the worst is over. Rather than aspire to the epic scale of TRAFFIC (2000), Marston keeps his focus small and avoids sensationalizing, stereotyping or sentimentalizing his characters. Moreno's subtly calibrated mix of intelligence, naivete, rebelliousness, charisma and practicality produces an unforgettable protagonist; even Maria's recklessness seems reasonable because it's so clearly rooted in desperation. Maria doesn't embody Colombia's drug industry; she's just a girl burdened with adult responsibilities and facing a painfully circumscribed future who enters the lowest level of the multinational drug business and pays dearly for the opportunities it provides. (In Spanish, with subtitles) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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Maria Full Of Grace
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