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Maria Full of Grace (2004)

Maria Full of Grace is a gripping drama about the decisions we make and the hell we put ourselves through to provide for those we love. First-time writer-director Joshua Marston has crafted a brutally realistic look inside the business of drug mules in such a way that is at times alternately heart-breaking, playful, and gut-wrenching, but always powerful.

Catalina Sandino Moreno plays Maria, a seventeen-year-old girl who works for a Colombian flower distributor, dethorning roses and getting paid very little for a lot of hard work. She works this job to provide for her family, which includes a mother, a grandmother, a sister, and the sister's baby. Maria is often called upon to pay for things for the baby, such as medicine and food, and has come to a point where she is torn between wanting to help and wanting her sister to help herself. Fed up with the mistreatment from her job, she quits, and she also finds out that she is pregnant, but doesn't love her boyfriend Juan (Wilson Guerrero) enough to marry him, and he feels about the same as her.

Maria and her best friend Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega) meet a young man named Franklin (John Alex Toro), and when Maria lets him know that she is trying to find a new job, he offers her an opportunity as a drug mule. He says it's easy work and it pays out big time, so Maria, desperate for the money, agrees to it. All she has to do, she learns, is swallow 62 pellets and fly on a plane to New York, where she will then excrete and deliver them. She is warned that if even one of the pellets bursts, she will die of an overdose. Also going along for the trip are several other girls, including Lucy (Guilied Lopez), who wishes to see her sister in New York, but can't bring herself to go to her apartment, and Blanca, who wants to be just like Maria. When an unexpected tragedy occurs, Maria must run from the drug dealers and find refuge elsewhere, but she must tell a slew of lies along the way.

This film is shot in the gritty style employed by such filmmakers as Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu: the colors are slightly washed out, and the camera is handheld, its shaking giving the proceedings a realistic, documentary-type feel. All of the performances are totally involving, especially Catalina Sandino Moreno, in her first film role, for which she was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress. She gives Maria an sense of innocence, but not of flawlessness, as she does not always make the right decisions, but her intentions are always well meaning.

The religious parallels are quite obvious to the astute viewer, beginning with the film's title and promotional artwork, which depicts Maria receiving a drug pellet much like holy communion. We've got the name: Maria, otherwise known as Mary; she is a young pregnant girl struggling to find a home. However, this Maria is far from perfect, and definitely not a virgin. This is not to say that the religious imagery is crammed down the viewer's throat; in fact, far from it. Everything in this film seems to unfold naturally, and in my opinion, that is the best way to tell a story.

Christopher Moyer
March 31, 2005

- Directed by Joshua Marston
- Written by Joshua Marston
- Produced by Paul S. Mezey

Catalina Sandino Moreno - Maria Alvarez
Yenny Paola Vega - Blanca
Wilson Guerrero - Juan
John Alex Toro - Franklin
Guilied Lopez - Lucy
Patricia Rae - Carla

- Genres: Drama, Thriller, Crime

Full Approval