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MARIA FULL OF GRACE
aka MARIA, LLENA ERES DE GRACIA
USA: HBO Films / Fine Line Features
UK: Icon Film Distribution
Cast: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Yenny Paola Vega, Guilied López, Jhon Alex Toro, Patricia Rae, Virgina Ariza, Rodrigo Sanchez Borhorquez, Charles Albert Patino, Wilson Guerrero, Johanna Andrea Mora, Fabricio Saurez, Mateo Suarez, Evangelina Morales, Juana Guarderas, Jaime Osorio Gómez, Victor Macias, Hugo Ferro, Ana Maria Acosta, Ada Vergara De Solano, Maria Consuelo Perez, Ed Trucco, Selenis Leyva, Juan Porras Hincapie, Oscar Bejarano, Singkhan Bandit, Patrick Rameau, Fernando Velasquez, Orlando Tobón, Monique Curnen, Lourdes Martin, Osvaldo Plasencia
Director: Joshua Marston
Countries: USA / Colombia
Language: Spanish (English subtitles)
USA & UK: 101 mins
USA Rated: R for drug content and language
UK Certificate: 15 contains strong language
USA Release Date: 16 July 2004 (Limited Release - Los Angeles and New York)
UK Release Date: 25 March 2005
A 17 year-old young woman, determined to escape a stifling existence in her small Colombian town, takes a bold leap into an unknown future in Joshua Marston's feature debut, MARIA FULL OF GRACE. The film sweeps us along on a tense and unpredictable journey with a heroine who is gutsy, rebellious and brilliantly alive. Her actions will lead her to the threshold of a new life, a life defined by what she wants rather than what she rejects. Pausing at that threshold, Maria makes her decision and moves forward, carried by her grit and grace. MARIA FULL OF GRACE is not a true story, but it is a story that happens every day.
Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) has grown up in a rural town tucked inside the rolling green-gold hills north of Bogota. It's a place where three or more generations of a family might share the same house; Maria lives in a modest concrete house with her grandmother, mother, sister and infant nephew. Each morning Maria leaves before dawn to catch the bus that takes her to work in the large industrial rose plantation that lies outside of town. The job is mind-numbingly tedious and strictly regimented. Along with her best friend Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega), Maria spends long days on her feet stripping thorns off flowers and preparing bouquets for export abroad. Sometimes, the weekend brings a party on the plaza that draws almost everyone in town for live music; Maria is determined to dance to every salsa and cumbia, while her boyfriend Juan (Wilson Guerrero) is content to hang on the sidelines, drinking aguardiente.
At 17, Maria - bright, spirited, fearless - looks out at a world that would keep her in a small, limited place, and refuses to go along. At home, she clashes frequently with her family, particularly her older sister Diana (Johanna Andrea Mora). Diana's weekly paycheck now goes to care for her baby, and though Maria loves her little nephew, she resents having to shoulder Diana's share of the household finances. At work, Maria resists abiding by a system that rigidly rations everything from bouquet types to bathroom breaks. And she is unwilling to play the pliant girlfriend to Juan, who neither shares nor understands Maria's sense of adventure. Only Blanca seems to appreciate Maria's assertive, rebellious nature; somewhat shy herself, Blanca is usually content to follow Maria's lead.
But Maria's nature is about to lead her in a sharply different direction. One day at work, Maria, nauseated, requests permission to go the bathroom. Her supervisor bluntly refuses, and lectures her about her unacceptable lack of work ethic. In the ensuing battle of wills, Maria abruptly quits. Her family is stunned and angry, but Maria refuses to apologize for her impulsive decision, much less reconsider it. However, there is another matter occupying Maria's mind: the secret knowledge that she is pregnant. Juan offers to marry her, but only because that is what he is supposed to do - and to Maria, that is no reason at all.
With few local job options, Maria's best lead is a friend who works as a maid in Bogota. She is on her way to the city when another option presents itself, in the person of Franklin (Jhon Alex Toro), a hip, self-assured young stranger Maria met at a weekend party. With his stylish leather jacket and easy charm, Franklin provides a sharp contrast to Juan and the other boys in Maria's town; he even comes from a different part of Colombia. He knows how to pay a compliment, and he piques Maria's interest with talk of a cool job that involves travel - something Maria has never done. When Franklin says the word "mule", Maria knows immediately what he's talking about: swallowing dozens of thumb-sized rubber pellets full of heroin and transporting them to the United States. Maria has heard about captured mules on the news and is wary, but Franklin, with the air of one who knows, describes those people as fame-seekers who deliberately get caught in order to be on TV. A smart girl like Maria will have no problem. The decisive factor is the money: up to $5,000 for one trip, an amount that would forever change Maria's life.
Putting aside her misgivings, Maria meets her prospective employer, Javier (Jaime Osorio Gómez) a disarmingly paternal man who explains the job in simple terms. Javier insists on giving Maria a little something to help solve her financial problems while she thinks about his offer. Although Javier assures her that his gift has no strings attached, Maria realizes the deal has been sealed. She seeks out and befriends another mule, Lucy (Guilied López), who tells Maria everything she needs to know: how to prepare herself physically, how to dress, how to act - and how if even one pellet breaks inside her, she'll die. Lucy has traveled as a mule twice before, and those jobs appear to have given her an economic independence, with an airy, uncluttered home all to herself. However, when Lucy talks about her trips to New York, she sadly confides that she hadn't the nerve to see her older sister, who lives in Queens.
With a fuller understanding of the risks that await her as a mule, Maria is alarmed and angry when Blanca announces that she, too, is going to be a mule. Blanca, however, will not and cannot backtrack; she's already taken the money.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, Maria is forced to swallow pellets one by one - sixty-two in all - while Javier keeps a watchful eye. Boarding the plane the following day, Maria discovers that she is traveling on the same flight as Blanca, Lucy and a fourth mule.
It is not the uneventful trip that Franklin had promised. During the flight, Lucy begins to show telltale signs of illness, suggesting that a pellet has opened in her stomach and is slowly poisoning her system. Once in the United States, the situation grows even more precarious as alert Customs officials quickly take the fourth mule into custody. Maria and Blanca soon find themselves in a cramped New Jersey motel room, coldly supervised by a pair of young toughs as they begin the humiliating process of expelling the drug capsules. Meanwhile, Lucy's condition is growing worse; Maria does what she can, but the young men are indifferent.
When Maria wakes the next morning, the bathroom is covered in blood and Lucy and the two boys are gone. She grabs Blanca and they flee with the drugs they have transported. In this unfamiliar environment, Maria has only one bit of information to guide her: the name and address of Lucy's sister, Carla (Patricia Rae).
Over the next few days, Maria will confront situations that will test her strength, courage and humanity. With only instinct and intelligence to guide her, she emerges with an understanding and grace that will carry her forward into a new life.