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31 January 2006

Maria Full of Grace (2004)

Catalina Sandino Moreno (Marí­a), Yenny Paola Vega (Blanca), Guilied Lopez (Lucy), and Patricia Rae (Carla)

Directed by Joshua Marston

Language: Spanish

From Hollywood Video: A young Colombian girl agrees to smuggle cocaine in her intestinal tract in order to escape her country for the United States.

Last year, Entertainment Weekly in particular hyped this film extensively, promoting Catalina Sandino Moreno's performance and the searing account of the ordinary, daily drug culture in Colombia as a "can't miss" indie experience. I rented it twice from Hollywood Video while we were in Cincinnati, but I never managed to watch the thing. Who wants to spend their evening with a young woman desperate enough to swallow 62 cocaine pellets in order to sneak them into the US? Cheery! But finally, I decided to give this (supposedly) gripping, meaningful film a chance.

As it turns out, Maria Full of Grace resembled The Wolf Pit in that it did not deliver. After nearly two hours, I cared no more for the characters than I did in the first scene, and their fates were wholly without consequence for me. Moreno's performance bordered on bratty, with wide, blank eyes, little sense of caring, and rebelliousness without motivation. She took her slow, deliberate, cautious character to an extreme, appearing dimwitted, at times, or unable to fend for herself. Perhaps being so young and suddenly out of her league stole her bravado and resources, but the wide eyes only got Marí­a so far. I wanted to slap her because of her inane choices.

First-time director Marston's screenplay may have been at fault, as well. Why was Marí­a so unwilling to accept her life in Colombia? What made her different from the thousands of other women in her town who did not become drug smugglers? As a viewer, I was asked to take as a given her naturally rebellious nature and inability to settle. More motivation for taking such tremendous risks would have been fulfilling. In addition, a more serious, thoughtful internal dialogue would have made her final decision more bearable. I felt no surprise in her ultimate choice, but I would have appreciated witnessing the process she underwent. Seeing your baby's sonogram is very interesting and exciting, but it should not stand as movie short-hand for every thought a pregnant woman undergoes.

The only bright spot in the film was the performance by Patricia Rae, a woman who greatly reminded me of Frances McDormand. She presented Carla as generous, intelligent, suspicious, and strong all at once, countering Moreno's wistful, lackluster spirit with a thirst for a better life. She gave the impression of having made active decisions regarding her family and future, rather than random, hasty movements based on the direction of the wind.

Entertainment Weekly had better be more careful when it selects indie, foreign films to promote. I knew there was a reason I do not buy their magazine anymore. This one was not worth the many attempts it took for me to finally watch.

Blogger Mircalla said...

“More motivation for taking such tremendous risks would have been fulfilling.”

The sad reality of facts is that people throw themselves into risky situations even for less than this.

I did not know anything about this film, so the impact of discovering this aspect of the drug trafficking was overwhelming on me. The process of swallowing those suppositories was shocking, and the scene of pain Maria and her “companions” underwent during the flight was so credible that I felt strong (a-moral) compassion and anxiety for their fate.

I think that Maria's apparent lack of motivation and ideals was part of the character’s nature and not due to Moreno’s bad performance. Maria was only 17, confused about her future, one amongst “thousands of other women in her town” in the same condition—fine, but also one of those hundreds in the country who get trapped into such thorny situations, unaware of the risks and consequences they would face. More than rebellious, she looks to me naïve, and stays the same way throughout the film. Therefore, I agree with you when you say “I felt no surprise in her ultimate choice” but unlike you (“I would have appreciated witnessing the process she underwent”), I don’t think she underwent any kind of development, which is probably her weakness and the reason why you felt like slapping her. The meeting with the States reveals itself disappointing. Nothing is offered to Maria, if not more troubles and just a vague hope for a better life, embodied by Carla’s example. Notwithstanding, Maria is still deluded that the States is the solution. In this regard, her final decision can be seen as reckless as the former one of accepting the illegal and highly risky task of drug messenger.

So, this is not the story of a hero but of one of those hundreds of ordinary girls who get caught into this net of delusion that easy money is the key for happiness and that our capitalistic model is the salvation to their miserable condition.


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