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Maria Full of
Grace (Maria, llena eres de gracia) (2004)
"Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with
thee..." There's probably no prayer as widely recognized in the Western world
as the Hail Mary. It's the key prayer in the Rosary; some believe that each time they say
a Hail Mary they are giving her a beautiful rose and that each complete Rosary makes her a
crown of roses. It is fitting, then, that Maria, the 17- year-old title
character in Maria Full of Grace, works in a rose processing plant in Colombia,
stripping the thorns from the stems before the flowers are packed for shipping. It's
dreary, tiresome work, supervised by an unsympathetic and demanding boss who cares only
about production quotas, not about the well being of his workers.
Maria seems to be the only member of her household (mother,
grandmother, sister and sister's infant) bringing in any money at all; her family holds
her responsible for their support. She's trapped in her oppressive job, because there are
no others. Then she finds she's pregnant by her boyfriend, Juan, who has the decency to
ask her if she wants to get married. But they do not love one another and cannot figure
out a way they could live that would work for both of them.
Catalina Sandino Moreno's already widely praised performance as Maria
is both sensitive and luminous, bringing genuine humanity to a character that has been
programmed to represent the stories of many such poor women, trapped in hardscrabble lives
with few alternatives open to them. These are the women who become the prey of Colombian
drug dealers who employ them as "mules," transporters of drugs that have been
packed into lactose pellets and ingested, to be recovered when eliminated after a flight
to the United States.
It's dangerous work--should a pellet break, the drug released into the
woman's system can prove fatal. There's always the chance of being caught by customs
agents or being double-crossed by the dealers who receive the shipment. Once involved, the
women are kept in line with threats about what will happen to their families if they don't
do as they are told.
Writer/director Joshua Marston, here making his feature debut, offers a
straightforward script that has the ring of truth to it. It almost has the feel of
reportage--making its points, building its case, and noticeably lacking in irony or
complications. At the same time, it avoids mawkishness and sentimentality, sustaining a
restrained, observational tone. Marston, as director, draws naturalistic performances from
his cast, presenting the story in a direct, chronological exposition that draws the viewer
step-by-step into the seemingly ineluctable fate of the "mules"--beasts of
burden caught in the trap of poverty without opportunity. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound," observes Paul in Romans.
Full of grace, indeed.
- Arthur Lazere