A/V Room









Maria Full of Grace - Preview & US reaction

Preview by: Jack Foley

WHAT constitutes a life of grace? Is it moral piety or exercising goodwill? Or does it spring from acting from one’s heart and desires?

In attempting to address such issues, Joshua Marston’s auspicious debut feature, Maria Full of Grace, became the talk of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it subsequently won the Audience Award for best dramatic film, not to mention the Silver Bear Best Actress award, for its star, Catalina Sandino Moreno, at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

The film also opened to rapturous acclaim in America, earlier this year.

The film tells the story of the spirited and rebellious Maria Alvarez, who lives with three generations of her family in a cramped concrete house, in a rural town north of Bogotá.

For work, she strips thorns from flowers on a rose plantation, but because her pay cheque supports the family, she is stuck - until, that is, she meets Franklin, a stylish young man, who piques her interest with talk of a cool job that involves travel.

The travel in question, however, involves Maria becoming a ‘mule’, and she reluctantly agrees to swallow dozens of thumb-sized rubber pellets, full of heroin ,and transport them to the United States in a bid to escape.

According to the Sundance Film Festival website, ‘Catalina Sandino Moreno gives an exceptional performance as a young woman facing this crossroads with bravery, grit, and yes, grace’, while Marston ‘demonstrates a fantastic eye for detail and crafts a narrative with disarming rawness and authenticity’.

The director reportedly put the projects he was developing after graduating from NYU on hold after reading one newspaper article about Colombian drug mules.

"The fact is that it’s common practice to send a half-dozen people on flights [smuggling drugs], knowing that one or more of them will either die or get arrested," he explained.

Marston drafted a screenplay based on the topic, ‘and immediately decided it didn’t work,’ he explains, ‘because it was purely plot’.


However, rather than abandoning it completely, he began a long process of rewrites that took him to the MacDowell Colony and the Sundance Screenwriting Lab.

"I no longer describe this as a film about drug mules," he says. "It’s a film about a young girl, in Colombia, who’s frustrated with her circumstances working at a flower plantation, who makes a desperate attempt to escape from those circumstances [by entering] into the world of drug smuggling.

"It’s a coming-of-age-story that’s brutal, realistic and honest. It also deals with the current social and political situation in Colombia, and the world of Colombian immigrants in New York and what it’s like to come to a new country and create a new life."

US reaction

Given the topical subject matter, and the certain grim inevitability hanging over Maria’s story, film critics in the States have been lining up to heap praise on both director and star for delivering such a compelling, and heart-breaking human tale.

Entertainment Weekly, for instance, awarded it a maximum A rating and wrote that it ‘unfolds with a simplicity that's as breathtaking as its inevitability is harrowing’.

While the Hollywood Reporter wrote that although it’s ‘an inherently intense story, Maria is told with a sympathetic eye’.

LA Weekly referred to it as ‘thrillingly subjective’, and ‘teeming with the fullness of everyday proletarian life’.

While the New York Times felt that it ‘sustains a documentary authenticity that is as astonishing as it is offhand’.

Newsday referred to it as ‘one of the more noteworthy debuts in recent filmmaking’, while Rolling Stone told audiences to ‘remember the name Catalina Sandino Moreno’.

USA Today, meanwhile, felt it was ‘gracefully acted, and the story packs a powerful punch straight to the gut’.

Variety felt that it ‘maintains an unblinking focus and sustains an almost unbearable level of tension’.

And Village Voice found it to be ‘a remarkably assured and humane feature debut’

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