'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Maria Full Of Grace

This afternoon I introduced a screening of Joshua Marston's film Maria Full Of Grace at the Keswick Film Club - so if you've found your way here from the club's website or via some other pathway, feel free to read comment agree or take issue . . .

There's a scene near the beginning of Casablanca where a young woman, fleeing violence & oppression in Rumania, is offered the chance of freedom & a new life - at the price of her virtue. So she asks Humphrey Bogart what she should do. Humph, the hard-bitten cynic, is short & to the point: "You want my advice? Go back to Rumania." Josh Marston's Maria Full Of Grace is an extended riff on what happens to a girl when she decides to accept freedom & risk the consequences. Though for Rumania read Columbia and for Nazis read the Bush administration's 'War On Drugs'.
The film is intensely southern, Latin & Catholic - full of layers that are probably opaque to a northern, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon (or Celtic) audience - we first see Maria stripping thorns from roses in a floral sweat-shop, and immediately think of the Marian passages of The Song Of Songs - as a rose among thorns is my beloved among women.
Maria also embodies two profound paradoxes, one political, the other personal, that make the film such an intensely satisfying & rich view.
The political paradox is that the America Maria thinks she's travelling to - the America of liberty & opportunity where huddled masses can become successes through hard work & thrift - no longer exists. Today it would be impossible to make a film like Gregory Nava's coruscating 1983 feature El Norte where two Guatemalan peasants travel north to salvation (at the cost of the life of an innocent woman). George Bush has petitioned Congress to allow 3 million Mexicans US residency to ensure that menial, underpaid, unsafe jobs (which no American would take) are filled by those vulnerable enough to have to accept them. Maria, although she doesn't know it, is about to become a member of the permanent underclass on whose labours Bush's America depends.
The personal paradox is in the performance of Catalina Sandino as Maria. By any conventional moral standards, Maria's life is problematic - she abandons her family, despises her boyfriend, endangers her unborn child, is a drugs mule, breaks laws left and right and deceives those who help her when she is most vulnerable. Yet throughout the film, especially in the extraordinary sustained tension of the drugs run into New York, we are entirely on her side, we desperately want her to live, to come through, to survive. It's a measure of Josh Marston's film-making and Catalina Sandino's powers as an actress that we're rooting for her from the beginning. Watch and be enthralled.


Blogger Piers said...

Kate Moss should have played Maria - just kidding.

Super film!

26/9/05 9:56 am  
Blogger Nick said...

Piers - it's odd that the film's publicity describes the goods Maria carries as 'heroin' - which is rather peculiar given the Columbian setting . . .

26/9/05 1:12 pm  
Blogger Piers said...

According to my pals in the FARC, heroin production is increasing in Columbia (actually I looked it up on wikipedia), and it is where the Americans get most of their 'brown'. I don't recall what they mentioned in the film.

If it was scag, perhaps Kate Moss' boyfriend should have played the mule.

26/9/05 3:14 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home