2004-09-03 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

Living in the United States is often taken for granted by those who have been there all their lives. With his film, “Maria Full Grace,” writer/director Joshua Marston presents a riveting picture of the extremes to which one young girl goes to get into America.

And, apparently, her method is not unusual: As do thousands of  women every year, 17-year-old Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) enters the U.S. as a “drug mule,” carrying 62 rubber pellets of heroin inside her stomach. Shot cinema verité-style in Spanish with English subtitles, “Maria” features an on-bound airplane scene far more frightening than anything in the “Airport” movies. It explodes with quiet tension. Fed up with her dead-end life working in a Colombian flower-cutting factory, unwed/pregnant Maria quits and realizes her only chance to escape near-slavery is the drug trade. Before long, she is practicing her drug-mule technique by swallowing extra large grapes under the eye of sinister, seductive smuggler, Javier (Jaime Osorio Gómez). He makes it perfectly clear that any misplaced pellets will mean death or great discomfort for her and her family in Colombia. Also, a broken heroin baggie in the bowels would be fatal. All this said, Maria dutifully absorbs the contraband as solemnly as she would a Eucharist wafer. Embarking on the plane, she sees three other mules. One is an experienced drug runner named Lucy (Gullied López). Another is first-timer Bianca (Yenny Paola Vega). The third is an older woman, who is immediately arrested when the plane touches down. At the American airport, Maria scrutinized by the authorities but, due to her pregnancy, cannot be x-rayed.

Once out of the hands of police, she and her two friends are whisked away in a van by a couple of thugs. They lock the girls in a hotel and give them laxatives to release the all-important pellets. Lucy becomes deathly ill. A bag has broken inside her. The thugs disappear leaving behind a bloody bathroom, a result of a little improvised surgery on the late Lucy.

In a panic, Maria and Bianca vacate the hotel room and find their way to the tiny Queens apartment of Lucy’s pregnant sister, Carla (Patricia Rae) and her husband. Although Carla ultimately becomes enraged over the sordid situation that killed her sister, she introduces Maria to benevolent Hispanic Godfather Don Fernando (Orlando Tobón), who offers some salvation for beleaguered Colombian immigrants.

Throughout her ordeal, Maria maintains her dignity, while showing considerable courage. She even confronts the drug thugs and demands her money, a portion of which she gives to Carla. “Marla Full Grace” is a powerful film that reveals how a flower can emerge from a garden of evil, ugliness and despair. See it and appreciate living in the land of the free.

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