Maria Full of Grace was truly a difficult film to experience because it is visceral to the core.
Maria is a 17 year old girl who lives in a village outside of Bogota, Colombia. She works on a flower plantation, and de-thorns long stem roses for export. She quits when her boss refuses to let her take bathroom breaks; she has just discivered she is pregnant.
Maria helps support a house full of women: her grandmother, unmarried single-mom sister, Diana, her nephew and her mother. They insist that she return to work; she refuses. She and her boyfriend decide not to marry.
At a dance, Maria meets Franklin. Soon after as she waits at the bus stop to go into Bogota to seek a job, Franklin picks her up and takes her into the city on his motorcycle. He offers to get her a job; which he does – as a mule.
Maria agrees to consume pellets of opium and take them in to New York. A friend of hers is also recruited. Another mule, Lucy, has already made two trips; she teaches Maria how to swallow by practcing with large grapes. The pellets are about the size of a woman’s thumb; not so small at all. Maria consumes 62 of them.
She and her friend make it through customs, though Maria is stopped; another mule is arrested; and Lucy becomes ill when one of the pellets breaks before she can expel them.
This 101 minute film seemed like it would never end. It is almost understated; the scenes are eliptical, trusting in our gestalt abilities to fill in the visual and digestive details that are missing. Perhaps for a woman it is even more difficult to watch because we can empathize with the gross discomfort as well as the emotional issues that lure these young women to act as drug mules, and risk everything for money and potential retaliatory harm to their families back in Colombia if they fail to deliver. (Of course, there are male mules as well, but this film is not about them.)
Maria is religious; in fact if I could get over the shock of the movie, I could possibly see through to the metaphors in the film that speak to the theological, because they are there.
This is an anti-drug movie; there is nothing hopeful or attractive in the cut-throat drug world it showsus. Maria is a persistently kind person and people show her kindness as well. The film ends hopefully for Maria and for her child, but I wonder about all the other mules willing to put their lives on the line for survival that Maria represents. This is truly a gritty, desperate movie that evokes incredibly strong emotions. To its credit it accomplishes this in a more subtle form than the usual feature-film fare.
I feel the need to pray.