Maria Full Of Grace (aka Maria llena eres de gracia)

Columbia (2004) Dir. Joshua Marston

In a small town in Columbia, María Álvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is a 17 year-old working a dead end job, the pay from which supports herself and her single mother sister, her mother and grandmother, and is with a boyfriend to whom she is pregnant but doesn’t love. Having been fired from her job, Maria accepts a high paying job offer from a friend, only to learn that it involves smuggling drugs into America by swallowing them in tiny plastic wrapped pellets. On the flight over to the US, Maria sees her friend Bianca (Yenny Paola Vega) and Lucy (Guilied Lopez), who showed Maria the ropes before the trip. When they land in the US their troubles are about to begin.

Produced by US cable broadcaster HBO this 2004 film takes us deep into the heart of the Columbian drug smuggling racket with a familiar, almost clichéd story, which serves to educate as much as entertain.

Maria is your typical teen, rebelling against the status quo of her life and prospect of no future as she supports her lazy family. Her willingness to become a drug mule is purely driven by money although you can tell she is inwardly reluctant. Lucy, it seems, is in a similar position although she is already regretful of taking up the job having now been forced back into it. Her excuse for heading across to the US is to visit her sister Carla (Patricia Rae) but when she is taken ill on the flight, presumably from a burst pellet, she gives Maria her sister’s address. When the dealers in the US refuse to help the sick Lucy, who then disappears the next day, Maria and Bianca flee to Carla’s place who reluctantly takes them in.

While the film is focused on Maria’s journey, both physically and emotionally, it also offers an unglamorous insight into the drug smuggling process, from the construction of the pellets to swallowing training. Things are almost derailed when Maria is picked up by airport security immediately upon landing but being pregnant spares her an x-ray while another mule is less fortunate.

Even with the familiar plot playing out as you would expect it to, the cast, especially Moreno (who was nominated for an Oscar for this debut role), make this a watchable and believable experience with the restrained and underplayed presentation.

Quite an intense, emotional and revealing film which doesn’t judge, it simply informs.