Maria Full of Grace (USA/Colombia ; 101 min.)

directed by: Joshua Mastron
starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno; Guilied Lopez; Patricia Rae
María, LLena Eres de Gracia
Bruce says: "Few films have a defining moment as strong and telling as one in MARIA FULL OF GRACE. At the beginning of the film Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is making out with her boyfriend (Wilson Guerro). A bit bored and not quite in the mood for quick sex at her mother’s house, she challenges Juan to climb to the top of an abandon building where they can continue their amorous maneuvers. Not waiting for an answer Maria begins to scale the wall and pull herself up to the first level, climbing upward in similar fashion until she reaches the top. By the time she gets there Juan is long gone. Within a few seconds we learn that Maria is determined, adventurous and willing to take risks.

"While Maria’s story is interesting, suspenseful and horrifying it also has many pedestrian aspects. We need to understand the tedium and claustrophobia of Maria’s physical and emotional environment in Colombia. Together, Moreno and director Marston elevate the film many rungs on the ladder above a TV movie of the week, which could have been the result had the story been handled in an average way. In almost every scene Marston uses the camera to create a mood while simultaneously defining the physical environment; Moreno, who is on-screen for almost all of the film, presents Maria’s thoughts and feelings with economy of movement. This is cinematic teamwork at its best; Marston defining the exterior and Moreno, the interior.

"Maria is a flowerworker spraying, de-thorning, defoliating and packing roses under sweatshop conditions for slave wages. When she meets a boy named Franklin (John Alex Torro) at a dance he seemingly flirts with her. What he actually is doing is recruiting young girls to work as mules, people who swallow cocaine pellets then travel to the United States where they turn them in to their US drug underworld contacts after they are discharged form their bodies. For this, the mules are paid a considerable sum by Colombian working class standards. Risk is involved: occasionally a pellet breaks and the mule dies; occasionally US Customs incarcerates a mule.

"Without telling too much about the plot, Maria does get hired and she does make a trip to the US. We learn what it takes physically, to smuggle drugs into the country. And we learn the emotional hazards involved. Maria is carrying 62 cocaine pellets and is cautioned by a Columbian drug lord, 'We know exactly how much each of those 62 pellets weighs.' She is also pregnant, a condition which adds to the risk. The plane trip is as suspenseful as any thriller I’ve seen in some time.

"Other than Maria, the other characters in the film aren’t that interesting. That is the story’s weakness. MARIA FULL OF GRACE is Joshua Marston’s first feature film. I eagerly anticipate his next film and fervently hope that he and Ms. Moreno (it is her film debut, too) will someday work on another project. Theirs is a magic that should be patented, it’s that good. 4.5 cats

Michael responds: "Great review, Bruce, but I disagree that all the other character in the film aren’t interesting. I thought the sister of Maria’s fellow 'mule' was pretty interesting, and Patricia Rae, the actress who played her wonderful.

Clinton says: "I assumed before watching this that the film was by an incensed Colombian-born filmmaker who really wanted to expose the tragedy of drug-mules, young girl's whose only option for escaping poverty is to smuggle drugs into the U.S. But no, the director is a young NYU graduate who isn't trying to push any 'life is hard in the third world' obviousness down our throats, and instead just follows the life of one stubborn young girl who wants out - and by God she's gonna get out. To that end he found Catalina Sandino Moreno, a first time actress who just nailed the role perfectly. So what does that mean for you, the viewer? It means you'll fall for Maria, get caught up in the thrill of smuggling drugs, and root for her to stick it to tha man and make it to America on her own terms. Heh."
Diane says: "I give this one 4 cats, too. While I watched, my body was undergoing, in a small but significant way, all that those young woman felt on their journey to NYC: the physical discomfort, the anxiety, the sweating, the fear, and the desparate bravery that comes out of it. Best actress nom, at least."
Janet says: "I was glad not to know too much about this film beforehand, and my ignorance kept me on the edge of my seat all the way through. (I thought at first it was going to be about abortion.) Especially at a time when multiple story lines are in vogue, I loved the way this film maintained its focus on a simple story and told it so patiently and straightforwardly. There was no melodrama, very little music, no preaching. The details of the process Maria went through were fascinating and the tension and suspense at several points in the story were superb. I have never been so wrapped up in a character's bodily processes. There was a horrific sense of Maria being violated in what she was being asked to do, even though it is not a sexual and generally not a violent film. 4 cats"
Michael says: "MARIA FULL OF GRACE is a terrific first feature by filmmaker Joshua Marston. His greatest feat was surely finding lead actress, Catalina Sandino Moreno to play Maria. Maria is an outgoing, stubborn young lady working in a flower factory in Colombia. When an altercation with her boss finds her jobless, she winds up acting as a mule, and carrying drug capsules in her stomach to New York City. Catalina shows us a full range of emotions, most notably, frustration at her lot, both before, and during her time as a mule. Another strong performance comes from Patricia Rae as Carla, the sister of another girl who is working with Maria as a mule.

What is amazing about Marston's film is how it came about. Marston is a New Yorker who read a story about young women working as mules. Fascinated, he constructed a powerful tale of Maria's difficult situation and fills her with personality and reality, making us root for Maria every step of the way. I was told that Marston didn't even speak Spanish, which just makes this film all the more astounding.

Worth a trip to the theatre! I've got a few nominations in mind for MARIA, most notably Moreno and Rae. 4 cats"
Carolyn says: "This was a pretty enjoyable movie, though watching her struggle on the plane was hard. I thought the lead actress was very good in her first lead role. The story was portrayed well even if it was somewhat predictable. 4 cats"