In a small village in Colombia, the pregnant seventeen years old Maria supports her family with her salary working in a floriculture. She is fired and with a total lack of perspective of finding a new job, she decides to accept the offer to work as a drug mule, flying to USA with sixty-two pellets of cocaine in her stomach. Once in New York, things do not happen as planned. Written by
A riveting human odyssey that transcends simplistic messages
In Joshua Marston's small budget film Maria Full of Grace, a headstrong Colombian girl of seventeen (Catalina Sandino Moreno), determined to escape from a country where the average annual income is about $1700 US, seizes an opportunity to earn $5000 by ingesting and transporting illegal drugs to New York at considerable risk to herself and her unborn child. Inspired by a woman in his Brooklyn neighborhood who told him her story of swallowing capsules of heroin and boarding a plane for the United States, first-time director Marston has escaped the clichés of social realist films to offer a riveting human odyssey that transcends simplistic messages of good and evil. Shot in documentary style with a hand-held camera in Ecuador and New York, the film's authenticity is greatly enhanced by its use of Colombian actors speaking in their native Spanish language.
Maria Alvarez along with her best friend Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega), works at a job stripping thorns from roses in a village near Bogota, Colombia. Despite low wages and deplorable working conditions, her pay provides support for her grandmother, mother, sister, and infant nephew to sustain their meager household. After she has words with her boss, she quits her job and soon discovers she is pregnant by a local boy Juan (Wilson Guerrero) whom she does not love and refuses to marry. Feeling trapped, she quickly accepts when Franklin (Jhon Alex Toro), a friend she recently met at a dance, offers her a huge sum of money to smuggle drugs into the U.S. The trick is that she must swallow up to 100 heroin pellets sealed with latex and dental floss, knowing that certain death follows if one of them bursts.
The lovely Ms. Moreno, in an Oscar-worthy debut performance, is no cardboard character but a fully developed human being who epitomizes the desperation of people who are willing to do almost anything to better their life. The tension is almost unbearable as we follow Maria's odyssey into danger. She soon meets drug kingpin Javier (Jaime Osorio Gomez), who explains the operation, and in secret, talks with Lucy (Guilied Lopez), who shares her experience in carrying drugs to America and allows her to practice by swallowing large grapes.
After barely escaping the probing of U.S. Customs Officers in New York, things begin to go wrong and Maria and Blanca must rely on their tremendous resolve to survive in a confusing and lonely environment. Winner of the Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance and two major awards at the Berlin Film Festival, Maria Full of Grace is not only a hard-hitting jab at a global economic system that allows exploitation of the poor to satisfy the pleasure of the rich, but a richly nuanced coming-of-age story that delivers its hard-edged message with understanding and compassion. One of the best films of the year.
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