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Maria Full of Grace
2004 - R - 101 Mins.
Director: Joshua Marston
Producer: Paul S. Mezey
Written By: Joshua Marston
Starring: Guilied Lopez, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Patricia Rae, Orlando Tobon, John
Review by: Greg Ursic
Despite the fanfare and billion dollar expenditures, the War on Drugs has been a big bust. One need only look to Colombia to see the results of this misguided policy: after decades of on the ground intervention, the spraying of millions of gallons of defoliant to kill crops, heroin and cocaine production in Colombia have continued to rise unabated. Movies about the drug trade tend to examine the end products of the chain in the North American context: money, violence and addiction. They rarely mention the supply end of the spectrum, where farmers are left with little choice but to raise illegal crops in order to support their families, or the disenfranchised act as organic couriers, risking not only jail, but death in order to earn a living.

For Maria, life is an ongoing string of disappointments: she works for a tyrannical boss in a pesticide-filled flower factory stripping roses of thorns and she has to turn over her meagre earnings to support an ungrateful sister, young nephew and mother. Maria’s boyfriend, an unmotivated wet blanket, provides at best a temporary distraction from her dead end life. When Maria decides that she can’t abide another day of indentured servitude, she walks away from her job, much to the chagrin of her family. Soon after, she meets a young man who proposes some short term work in Bogota that offers incredible returns, and leaps at the opportunity without thinking.

Joshua Marston, the film’s writer/director, avoids the facile cliches of the genre in favor of a world of greys – there are no mustachioed evil Latin American drug dealers, instead they are depicted as shadowy figures that provide an opportunity, unsavory as it is for people to make some money. There is no arm twisting involved, and they tell their charges to think about what it is they’re getting themselves into. The mules meanwhile aren’t wandering the streets unable to feed themselves, yet they’re clearly in the lower strata of society, with little hope of self improvement and trapped in jobs that they will likely die in. In spite of the writing however, the fate of this film rests on the casting of Maria – if the viewer doesn’t believe her plight the story would be stopped dead in it’s tracks.

Enter 22 year-old Catalina Sandino Moreno, a novice actress possessed of a remarkable charisma, combined with raw talent. Moreno slips effortlessly into the role, displaying the kind of gritty fortitude shown by Michelle Rodriguez in Girlfight but with an added edge – Maria’s take charge bravado is balanced by a confused vulnerability, which in turn enhances her humanity. Moreno’s natural beauty shines through in every scene, which makes the ugly situations she finds herself in that much more disturbing. The scenes where she practices swallowing the drug laden pellets are extremely excruciatingly uncomfortable to watch – I kept feeling my throat tightening and my stomach twisting. It’s visceral film making at it’s finest.

'Maria Full of Grace' is a skillfully written and executed film that presents a novel treatment of a complex subject. The combination of a dynamic plot line, fleshed out characters and a superb lead will earn this film a spot on many Top Ten film lists this year.
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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