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Maria Full of Grace
Director: Joshua Marston
Cast: Cataline Sadino Moreno, Yenny Paola Vega
oshua Marston’s debut feature, Maria Full of Grace, did not stem from a carefully planned grand vision, a fact that contributes to its success. What began as a simple conversation with a local acquaintance blossomed into the idea behind one of the better films of the year. Marston, while living in a Brooklyn neighborhood checkered with Colombian émigrés, came across a woman who had worked as a drug mule. Her story allowed Marston the accuracy and perspective through which to paint a stark and honest portrait of what happens to drug-carriers and what provokes some women to become “mulas”.
Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sadino Moreno) is the film’s 17-year-old protagonist, and her story is treated as frighteningly generic. The young Maria rises before dawn each day to ride the bus to a flower plantation where she performs the mind-numbing task of stripping the leaves and thorns from roses. Her hard work affords her a life of poverty and abject boredom; she shares a room in her mother and grandmother’s house with her sister and infant nephew and does little else besides work.
I believe I can fly…I believe I can touch the sky…
After a particularly abusive tirade from her boss, Maria quits her job. Within days, she discovers the added pressure of pregnancy from a loveless relationship. Without readily available options and in need of cash, Maria hesitates only slightly when an acquaintance offers her work as a “mula”. Her resistance is melted further by the promise of $100 per “roll of film” transported to America. The five thousand or so dollars she could potentially earn in one week trafficking heroin is triple the annual per capita income of Columbia and most likely far more than triple what Maria earned yearly at the flower plantation. Her decision is already made.
During her journey to America and the subsequent events following her arrival, Maria learns that the cakewalk described by her employers was far from accurate and witnesses first-hand the pitfalls of what she once believed could be a glamorous life. Her experiences contribute to immensely important decisions about her future (and that of her unborn child), and lead Maria to pursue a different path.
While Maria Full of Grace does rise far above the level of “after-school special” and passes “cautionary tale”, it fails to achieve enough universality to rate as a great film. That is not to say Maria Full of Grace is unworthy of a trip to the theater; on the contrary, this movie is quite a strong debut. Marston crafts a sympathetic, organic, and heroic protagonist who is thrust from her normal life into conflict by circumstance. Maria epitomizes the extraordinary personality coming from an ordinary place, guaranteeing that her story seems at once unique and yet far too common.
The Fonz gets into drug running
Perhaps the most impressive debut of Maria Full of Grace, however, comes from the woman picked to illuminate Marston’s central character. Catalina Sandino Moreno, a stunningly beautiful native Colombian, shows an amazing range of emotion in her 109 minutes as Maria. More impressive than her expressive abilities, is Moreno’s gift for representing the vastly different levels of maturity that a 17-year-old exhibits on a daily basis. Maria’s determination is matched by her often hurtful vocal barbs, and the balance reminds the audience of how being seventeen, even an old soul at seventeen, looks and feels.
See Maria Full of Grace for Moreno, and see it for its careful handling of a tragic subject. It’s a good film, and God knows there’s not much else out there right now, unless you’re drooling over Baby Geniuses 2, in which case you probably drool regardless of the multiplex’s offerings.
By: Kevin Worrall
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