The tagline for Maria Full of Grace claims that the film is based on 1,000 true stories. These stories, of desperation, drug trafficking and dreams of a good life, have been the subjects of several Hollywood films such as 2001’s Blow.
But Maria is about more than just drug trafficking. It’s about alienation and desperate measures, and about colorless life and the desire to escape it.
Maria, a Colombian teenager from a small town outside of the capital city of BogotÃ¡, quits her job at a rose factory and needs to find a new way to help support her family. Through a coincidental meeting, Maria finds out about a very lucrative but dangerous job — smuggling heroin into the United States.
Maria agrees to become a “mule” and swallow more than 60 pellets filled with drugs. She travels with three other women to New York to drop off the cargo.
The film is a debut for both writer/director Joshua Marston and star Catalina Sandino Moreno. Both Marston and Moreno tackle the touchy subject of drug trafficking with grace: he with subtle images of monotonous life intertwined with incredibly real suspense and she by making Maria into a real, well-defined, yet at times flawed, person.
Maria, whose slightly stubborn and explosive personality leads her to become a mule, is a well-developed, likeable character. Although it’s hard to approve of her actions, it’s also hard to dislike Maria and the courage and despair that drive her to become who she is in the film. More importantly, it’s Marston’s realism that makes us understand but not condone the motivation that leads other non-fictional Colombians to do it in real life.
The film is made from Maria’s perspective: In New York, it’s the images reminiscent of Colombia that give the audience comfort, and her encounters with non-Spanish speakers are a disturbing annoyance.
Marston’s take is very realistic. The camera angles and the simplicity of images and storyline are so true to life that one can easily confuse the film for a documentary.
Maria Full of Grace is a powerful story full of realism but without a morally taut story line. Maria’s story can easily be multiplied to fit the 1,000 on which it claims to be based.