Maria Full of Cultural Colonialism at the Oscars
For those of you who haven’t seen it, this movie couldn’t be more straightforward: A young Colombian girl from a troubled low-income family decides to become a drug mule, and sneak drugs into the USA in her stomach. After recently finding herself pregnant, no less. She soon meets another courier like herself. On a flight north, the second courier becomes ill when a drug balloon bursts inside her. But kind officers permit Maria to clear US Customs upon arrival, despite suspecting her of carrying drugs. The second courier dies, and Maria pays to ship her body home. THE END.
But the simplicity of the plot is a fruit of the distorted and manipulative vision that an American by the name of Joshua Marston, the writer and director, has of our reality as Colombians and as Latin Americans. If the empire sprays us daily with its poison glyphosate, we are now doubly fumigated with its no less poisonous cinematic agent. "Maria, Full of Ö" isn’t just a bad movie, slow and poorly acted: it also bears a cargo of ideological venom aimed at the publicís vision of Colombian reality. To hear the movie tell it, drug-running is a 100%-Colombian business — in the film, not one American is shown sullying his or her hands with the business of making drugs move. Nor does one Colombian character evidence a shred of moral fiber. Maria’s family is dysfunctional, her boyfriend is an opportunistic cad; she is mistreated at work, and later utilized by a local drug trafficker. The only characters we see express human kindness are a pair of US Customs agents who take pity on Maria upon learning that she is pregnant. This despite the fact that in real life, she’d have been detained with only laxatives and her conscience to keep her company, until her cargo manifested.
And Maria’s own conscience might have had harsh words for her. At no point does she express remorse or concern for the life of her unborn child, the true ìGraceî she holds, which would surely had been forfeited if she had shared the fate of the second courier.
Beyond the above, contrary to its title, "Maria, Full of Grace" lacks any charm. It’s quickly apparent that Maria wasn’t written by anyone native to Colombia; it has no glimmer of reflected zeitgeist, of pop culture, or popular humor. The script was written in English and translated to Spanish, an antiseptic process lending it no authenticity.
The plot is unfailingly linear, and most actors seem concerned only with getting their lines out of the way. The presence of one actress does help lift "Maria" from total disaster: Guilied Lopez. Playing Lucy, the second, less fortunate courier, Lopez comes off as human, real, someone who the audience might be able to care about.
If this movie acts as anything more than a caricature of life, it’s as a vehicle for the career of Catalina Sandino, and her status as a Hollywood commodity (she had a token Oscar nomination, and obviously didn’t win).
Easily forgotten with the glow of her features is her lack of acting skill, or that this is her first major movie role. Media pundits seem intent on recreating her as a star, in hopes of marketing her to a demographic that would desperately like to have one. Never mind that Sandino brings nothing to her character beyond her hair and her pose, unless one counts her wooden acting. Which might, again, be forgivable if one takes into account that she’s doing less acting than she is preening for future roles.
Much as the Spanish brought us bright baubles 500 years ago, to dazzle us with their brilliance as they grew laden with gold, modern filmmakers cum cultural colonialists would like the glow of the screen to dazzle us with images of what we aren’t, while the cruel reality of drug trafficking remains occult. Nowhere on this screen do we see the bankers, the money-launderers, the end-users, the captains of industry that benefit from a continued narcotics trade, a trade in a new ìgoldî bled from our country.
"Maria" would make a poor soap opera, a mediocre documentary, and as a movie, a superior treatment for insomnia. Once again, we Colombians are the subjects of cultural deconstruction disguised as art, parted from our spending money in theaters and video stores, and shot full of product "Made in the USA" (but, lest that seem too straightforward, filmed almost entirely in Ecuador.) In return, we get another effigy of ourselves and of our culture.
Perhaps most ironic for a country that values its Catholic traditions: the contrast between the drug mule and the Virgin Mary. While the original Virgin Mary was "full of grace," the anti-virgin of this film was full of cocaine. The very title of this movie, and its intrinsic allusion are distracting sophistry, for the virgin in this movie was neither virgin nor full o grace. Should it then follow that the "child" she bears us — the drug trade — should be our Divine Redeemer?
"Maria, Full of Grace" is in fact most full of what a discerning reader might most suspect, and should require no further clarification.
Mario Lamo Jimenez is a Colombian writer and anthropologist, co-founder of the Colombian "Alliance of Journalists and Writers" and editor of its publication "La Hojarasca". He can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org