MARIA FULL OF GRACE  Joshua Marston (2004)
a short take by Tony McRae

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee…

The first half hour of Joshua's Marston's debut feature film is a detailed, finely nuanced portrait of life in a Columbian city as seen from the point of view of a seventeen year-old girl, Maria Alvarez, played with powerful understatement by Catalina Sandino Moreno.  Beset by boss, family and boyfriend, Maria, along with two other girls, agrees to become a "mule," one who ingests small packets of cocaine, then flies on commercial airlines to New York or other large American cities with their cargo to deposit their load, subsequently returning to Columbia for another run.  One of the many accomplishments of this film is its ability to draw the viewer into Maria's story rather than the drug trafficking itself; that is, our caring for Maria trumps our complicity as we wish her Godspeed.  We know the immorality of the drug trade but somehow this movie gets us to think differently.  Yes, its a filthy business but we are so caught up in Maria's situation that all else becomes secondary.   I for one wished for Maria safety, in effect hoping she avoids detection and finishes what she started out to do, that is, make enough money for her family and her unborn child. 

Maria is a believer.  By that I mean that she was raised to trust in God's grace which is freely given even to sinners.  No moral judgment is made by director Marston's camera which matter-of-factly follows Maria in Columbia, during her journey and her encounters in New York City.  As we become caught up in her fate, we too suspend moral judgment.

My reading of Maria's motives is that she has put herself and the child in her womb in God's hands.  For Columbians the drug trade is a given; she will use it for her own ends.

Maria Alvarez, we learn, is a courageous and virtuous young woman.  She cares deeply for the other "mules" who accompany her to New York, and for the sister of one of the girls living in Queens.  The decisions she makes at the end of the film justify the film's title.  She is full of compassion and love and, yes, grace.

The poster for this film might be shocking for some.  It pictures a virginal young woman about to receive not a wafer from a priest but a cocaine packet.  Its blantancy--what the French would call a coup de foudre, a thunderbolt--is absent from the film, though not from the embedded story.

Rated R for drugs and profanity

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