A Colombia education
"Maria Full of Grace" paints a passionate but never overdramatized portrait of women who fly to America with drugs in their stomachs.
By JOSHUA TANZER
You've heard the news items about "mules" who carry drugs into the U.S. in their stomachs, given them a quick "eeeeewwwwgrosssss," dismissed the people involved as crazy, and moved on to the next headline. This is the not-at-all-crazy story of one of those people.
"Maria Full of Grace" starts in a small town outside of Bogotá, Colombia, where there's only one job one honest one, anyway and Maria has it. The rose plantation is a thoroughly efficient operation, with dozens of pickers, packers and Maria's specialty thorn strippers. Seeds, soil and subsistence labor are converted into bouquets of beauty for your table or your beloved. But all is not going well for Maria in work or in life, and she abruptly quits.
|MARIA FULL OF GRACE|
|Original title: Maria, llena eres de gracia.|
Written and directed by: Joshua Marston.
Produced by: Becky Glupczynski, Rodrigo Guerrero, Paul S. Mezey, Jaime Osorio Gómez, Orlando Tobon.
Cast: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Guilied Lopez, Patricia Rae, Orlando Tobon, John Álex Toro, Yenny Paola Vega.
Cinematography: Jim Denault.
Edited by: Lee Percy.
Related links: Official site
Broadway between 62nd and 63rd
Landmark Sunshine Cinema
143 East Houston St|
| RELATED ARTICLES|
The first-time director talks about the work and the spirit that went into his award-winning debut "Maria Full of Grace."
Catalina Sandino Moreno|
The first-time film actress, born in Colombia and now living in New York, talks about her powerful, Oscar-nominated debut in "Maria Full of Grace."
Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2004|
Maria Full of Grace
Persons of Interest
Human Rights Watch 2001
Human Rights Watch 2003
"What are you going to do?" her mother asks with considerable desperation, knowing that Maria's paycheck supports the whole family, including Maria's sister and baby niece.
"I'll find another job," Maria says.
"What other job?" the mother howls. "Around here there's nothing but flowers."
That's where she's wrong. In nearby Bogotá awaits another opportunity, and it pays much better than de-thorning. All Maria has to do is get on a plane and carry some "rolls of film" to their destination in New York (actually New Jersey, a "small town outside New York"), where she'll be paid $100 a unit. Knowing full well what's meant by a "roll of film," Maria accepts.
Maria's journey is an all-expense-paid tour of the drug underground, where one false move can land the naive teenager in prison or the grave and one phone call back to Colombia could be a death sentence for her whole family. At least three other mules have been sent on the same plane ("If one gets caught it's easier for the others to get through") and the separate fates of this ferrying foursome show some of the things that can happen many of them bad.
The danger gives each of their stories a special urgency, as well as a peculiar irony. These are young women whose lives were of no great value to anyone when they were flower-packers, and they are, if anything, even less valued once they go to work for the traffickers. But the millions of dollars worth of drugs in their bellies make them very valuable shipping containers indeed, as momentarily precious but ultimately disposable as the wrapping paper on a Christmas present. They become important to us as an audience because they're the focus of the film, but to their factory foreman, the drug boss who sends them on their journey, the DEA officers who try to intercept them at the airport, the gangsters who take delivery of them in the states, and presumably the user who shoots up their cargo on the streets, they are pawns in a much bigger game. Whether their reward was a few thousand dollars or complete ruin will not be long remembered.|
First-time writer-director Joshua Marston has made a momentous film that is passionate without being overdramatic. Maria's story is told and impressively acted by Colombian-born, New York-based actress Catalina Sandino Moreno with a directness that keeps the tone tense but realistic. Many small moments are done perfectly like the little start that the crucifix-clutching Maria gives when the plane, undoubtedly the first she's ever been on, jolts off the runway. Even scenes obviously intended to have symbolic meaning like an early one in which she looks up at the sky and tells her boyfriend Juan that she wants to go there never feel contrived. (Wilson Guerrero does terrific work, incidentally, in the secondary role of Juan, as does Orlando Tobėn as a sort of neighborhood fixer in Queens.) Because so much is done right and so little is oversold, we can easily believe in this small story and multiply it in our minds into the thousands of small, human stories it undoubtedly represents.
|JULY 3, 2004|
OFFOFFOFF.COM THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK
Reader comments on Maria Full of Grace:
Thanks from Sara, Apr 11, 2005
Post a comment on "Maria Full of Grace"