Another great movie to exemplify what International Women’s Month is about is this 2004 Spanish film about women being used as drug carriers from Colombia to the USA.
Maria Full of Grace is a 2004 joint Colombian-American film and is the feature debut of writer and director Joshua Marston. The title is taken from the Roman Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer and somehow misleads viewer into expecting a movie with a religious theme. But the movie is far from being one for it is highly political, dealing with drug smuggling across country borders. The “grace” in the title is also very symbolic. It can refer to Mary, the Catholic figure, which is a reflection of the spirituality of the Colombian people. Secondly, “grace” is a slang term for the drug “heroin”. And lastly, it can also be the name of a baby.
The movie chronicles the drug smuggling activity in Colombia and features the lives of some drug mules. It starts with Maria Alvarez, a 17-year old Colombian girl, resigning her work as a rose de-thorner in a local flower plantation.
She does so despite the disapproval of her hard-up family. Worse, Maria finds out that she is pregnant with a man she is not sure she loves. On her way to Bogota to find a new job, Maria meets a stranger and is later offered a position as a drug mule. Desperate, she accepts the dangerous job. After much practice, Maria swallows 62 wrapped pellets of cocaine and flies to New York City. On the plane, she sees her best friend Blanca who she discovers as a drug mule too. She spots another familiar person, plus more, and realizes they are deployed all at once to ensure delivery of large drug quantity. And when the plane lands at the US airport, customs pick up Maria and interrogate her as she is being suspected as mule. Her pregnancy saves Maria from being X-rayed. But the problems are only getting more complicated. A fellow mule is captured... A drug pellet apparently ruptures inside the stomach of another mule which has caused her death... Afraid, Maria and friend Blanca escapes the traffickers and runs around the USA. They run around carrying several pellets of illegal drug. What must they do? Report to the police and face the charges? Or go back to the traffickers and accomplish their mission?
The movie is really disturbing as it deals with a very delicate social issue – drug smuggling. I was reminded of the film after watching on TV the news about three Filipinos bound to face death sentence after being charged as drug mules in China. It is a very sad news as they are going to be executed anytime soon (I guess this week), and this unfortunate event puts another strain on Philippines-China relationship (after the bloody hostage-taking of Chinese nationals in the Philippines last year).
Well, the movie clearly depicts the process of transporting the drug and using women as mules. The term “mule” in animals refers to beast of burden used by man to transport large loads without complaint. In the drug world, the term means essentially the same thing, denoting someone who is forced to carry the product into other countries. And the movie has detailed the activity – from getting mules to do the job, the packaging of the drug in rubber packs, the swallowing of the pellets, up to the actual flight of the mules.
The film also explores the desperation and motives on three particular mules. Maria, the lead character, was miserable and desperate to find a better life for her unborn child. Her friend, Blanca was tempted with the money she expected to receive from the job. And the third is Lucy who simply wanted to be reunited with her long-lost sister in New York. They were ordinary women lured into doing a very dangerous work. The characters seem so real and believable.
Catalino Sandino Moreno, who played Maria, did a stunning performance in the movie. Her innocence and naivety put more shock factor to the movie. It made me thought how such a pretty and angelic girl be involved in drug smuggling. And to think that a girl like her swallowed tens of drugs pellets! No wonder, her performance in the movie earned her several awards and nominations. She was named Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival and was nominated for Best Actress for the 77th Academy Awards.
The film has likewise gathered numerous nominations and awards. In Rotten Tomatoes, it garnered a rating of 97%. In the blockbuster, the movie also did so well. Truly, “Maria Full of Grace” is one the most essential films of 2004.
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