Maria Full of Grace Made in: Colombia, USA Language: Spanish, English Director: Joshua Marsten Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Guilied Lopez, Yenny Paolo Vega, John Alex Toro, Jaime Osorio Gómez, Orlando Tobón, Wilson Guerrero Year: 2004
Synopsis: Tough and stubborn Maria Álvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) lives a demanding life in small village outside Bogotá, Colombia. She toils at her job at a floriculture, and whatever money she makes goes to support her sister (who's a single-mom) and aging mother.
When she discovers that she's pregnant, Maria breaks up with her boyfriend, Juan (Wilson Guerrero), quits her job, and goes off to Bogotá in desperate search for better opportunities and freedom.
Through Juan's friend, Maria meets a kind-looking, elderly businessman named Javier (Jaime Osorio Gómez, who also helped produce the film). Javier, however, is a big-time drug kingpin. In exchange for a large sum of money, he recruits Maria and her dim-witted friend, Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega) as drug couriers, or mules.
She is to transport a load of heroin into New York City. But to get through US customs undetected, the heroin is stored in a series of special pellets that are swallowed whole by the mule.
After meeting up with Javier's contacts stateside, the drugs would be extracted. The process, of course, is extremely dangerous and difficult for the mule. If any of the pellets should burst, the courier would die quickly.
Maria befriends a fellow courier named Lucy Díaz (Guilied Lopez), whose sister lives in New York. But when the plan goes terribly wrong, Maria finds herself fighting to stay ahead of drug dealers while trying to survive a chaotic new predicament.
The Good: As the plot begins to pick up, the story looks as though it's going to go in a certain direction.
But Maria Full of Grace is largely unpredictable. It's not a preachy film that gives lip service to the plight of poor people and the dastardly deeds of big, bad drug dealers. Rather, it stays largely centered around Maria and how she intends to deal with her specific situation.
Catalina Sandino Moreno does an excellent job as the tough protagonist. Like in other foreign films, it is the acting that stands out. Everyone is well cast and the peripheral characters are all believable.
The details of how mules work, and how the heroin is prepared to transport will make most viewers cringe, but the shock value is highly effective when it comes to presenting the realities of the drug trade.
The Bad: Although Maria Full of Grace is mainly about the title character, the filmmakers sort of box themselves in a corner from a storytelling standpoint. The issue of drugs, mules, social problems in Colombia, death, surviving in New York, etc. are so heavy and layered that they simply can't be ignored in favor of a focused storyline.
Yet, addressing all of those themes (even in minor ways) threatens to pull the plot in too many directions.
The ending is, I guess, is supposed to be open-ended. But it can also be argued that director Joshua Marston didn't know how to tie all the elements together neatly enough.
Who would like this movie: Maria Full of Grace is for you if you have an interest in foreign films and the social issues of Latin America. It's not a perfect movie, but it's definitely bold and has plenty of strong points despite its flaws.