When I watch films I edit them in my mind, deciding which scenes I'd cut out, tone down, or make more realistic so they'll work better. I can't help it. "Maria Full of Grace" is one of those rare films that you can't imagine changing anything. Its tight storyline, fine casting, exquisite acting and superb cinematography all come together and create a tour de force.
Catalina Sondino Moreno's seventeen year-old Maria lives north of Bogota and works in a large industrial rose plantation doing a mind-numbing job. Because of a series of events she loses her job, becomes desperate and decides to work as a "mule" carrying thumb-sized rubber capsules of heroin in her stomach from Columbia to the United States. Strong-willed, and intelligent, she is faced with some harrowing decisions, makes some mistakes, but has the chance for redemption in the end. Moreno's nuanced performance expresses her grace and intelligence as an actor.
"Maria Full of Grace" is American writer-director Joshua Marston's first film. He found Catalina Sondino Moreno after auditioning 800 women in Columbia. She was attending college for advertising and did local stage acting with no aspirations for film acting. But Moreno's mother and friend convinced her to audition when they heard that an America was in Columbia casting for a film. Every one of Marston's characters is richly developed and stays true throughout the story – even the guys who collect the heroin and pay the mules when they reach the U.S. "Maria Full of Grace" is a fine story, holds together well and is psychologically correct.
Some of the supporting actors give notable performances like Patricia Rae who is stunning as Carla, the mule, Lucy's sister; Orlando Tobon, gives an astounding performance as the compassionate Don Fernando and Guilied Lopez is striking as Lucy. Their acting reflects Marston's considerable skill as a director.
"Maria Full of Grace" is the recipient of several awards including the Dramatic Audience Award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and the prize for Best First Film at the Berlin International Film Festival. Catalina Sondino Moreno has won several awards and is nominated for Best Actress by the Screen Actor's Guild and the Academy. I suppose it's possible that this first-time director and lead actress have beginner's luck; but given the composition of "Maria Full of Grace," I doubt it.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 2/5/05
Maria Full of Grace
2004/Director: Joshua Marston, Rated R for drug content and language/In Spanish with English subtitles and English.