A bright, spirited 17-year old, Maria Alvarez, lives with three generations of her family in a cramped house in rural Colombia and works stripping thorns from flowers in a rose plantation. The offer of a lucrative job involving travel--in fact, becoming a drug "mule"--changes the course of her life. Far from the uneventful trip she is promised, Maria is transported into the risky and ruthless world of international drug trafficking. Her mission becomes one of determination and survival and she finally emerges with the grace that will carry her forward into a new life.
It's painfully understandable why the 17-year-old title character of this gripping Colombian film would risk her freedom and even her life to be a drug mule. The movie follows the desperate plunge of Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) from a dead-end job as an assembly-line worker in a Colombian flower factory into the drug-smuggling underworld. Her dangerous undertaking is her last resort when she finds herself unemployed and pregnant. Before the story zeroes in on the harrowing details of drug running and its dangers, it details Maria's hopelessly circumscribed life in a rural village. If her story is a template for countless others like it, what keeps your heart in your throat is Maria herself. In a performance that feels more lived in than acted, Ms. Moreno's Maria is an attractive, smart, spirited young woman who faces the challenge of fending for herself with a fierce determination and ingenuity that compromises but never undermines her essential decency and morality. The movie sustains a documentary authenticity that is as astonishing as it is off-handed. Even while keeping you on the edge of your seat, it never sacrifices a calm, clear-sighted humanity for the sake of melodrama or cheap moralizing. — Stephen Holden
2004-07-16 | Stephen Holden | Read the New York Times Review of Maria Full of Grace