Maria Full of Grace
(Maria Llena Eres de Gracia)

               Maria Full of Grace won the Dramatic Audience Award at the 2004 Sundance
       Film Festival and for once I have to say that the voters were on the money. This intelligent,
       thought-provoking drama marks the debut of talented writer-director Joshua Marston and
       features a compelling and beautifully realized lead performance by newcomer Catalina
       Sandino Moreno.

               Maria is a Colombian teenager who is constantly being called "stubborn." She supports
       her extended family (including her grandmother, mother, sister and sister's baby) by toiling
       long hours at a flower plantation where she spends the day stripping thorns off roses and
       preparing them for export. When she's not performing this back-breaking work, Maria is
       either hanging out with her best friend and coworker Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega) or with her
       boyfriend Juan (Wilson Guerrero). This spirited young woman wants to enjoy life but is
       confined by the small town in which she lives. She soon discovers that she's pregnant which
       will further limit her options.

               Juan offers to marry her as it is the proper thing to do, but Maria doesn't love him,
       nor he her. When she is refused a request for a bathroom break at work because of morning
       sickness, Maria quits her job. Her family, dependent on her paycheck, pressures her to
       return to work but Maria has other ideas. Deciding to head to Bogota, she meets up with
       Franklin (Jhon Alex Toro), who makes her an offer she cannot refuse. He hooks her up with
       Javier (Jaime Osorio Gomez), a seemingly avuncular type who operates a drug smuggling
       cartel. Maria agrees to serve as a mule and seeks out and befriends the experienced Lucy
       (Guilied Lopez). Maria is shocked to learn that Blanca has also volunteered for the
       potentially dangerous mission, the lure of easy money too much to resist.

               Maria, Blanca, Lucy and a fourth woman all end up on the same flight to New York
       where complications begin. Lucy becomes ill, probably from a swallowed pellet that
       ruptured. Custom officers arrest the fourth woman and the other three are taken to a
       New Jersey motel where they must expel the drug capsules. When the situation gets more
       dire, Maria takes action and runs off with Blanca in search of Lucy's sister in Queens. Alone
        in a strange environment, Maria is forced to deal with a string of situations that severely test
       her mettle.

               While one might quibble over minor plot points,  
Maria Full of Grace ranks as one of
       the best films of 2004. Marston directs the action with an assured hand and evinces superb
       performances from his cast of novices and experienced players. He has been blessed to find
       his leading lady, Catalina Sandino Moreno, one of the most beautiful actresses working today.
       The camera loves her, and Sandino Moreno nicely captures the many moods of the character.
       There's strong work from Guilied Lopez as Lucy and, especially, Patricia Rae as her sister
       Carmen, as well as Orlando Tobon as a sort of New York City neighborhood Godfather.
       This is definitely a film not to be missed.         

Rating:                             A-
MPAA Rating:               R for drug content and language
Running time:                101 mins.

                                           In Spanish with English subtitles.        

                                                   Viewed at Magno Review Two
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.