in Bogota, Colombia in 1981, Catalina Sandino Moreno became interested in theater
and stage at an early age. In 1997, while still in high school, she enrolled in
the Ruben Di Pietro theatre academy in Bogota. During her four years at the academy,
she acted in such productions as “Acuerdo para Cambiar de Casa” by Griselda Gambaro,
“The Dark Room” by Tennessee Wiliams, and “Laughing Wild” by Christopher Durand.
After making her film debut in MARIA FULL OF GRACE, Moreno relocated to New York
City, where she attended the Lee Starsberg Institute. She recently made her New
York stage debut in the Frog & Peach Tehare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s
the start, it’s impossible not to like seventeen year old Maria Avarez (Catalina
Sandino Moreno.) The opening shots of Joshua Marston’s powerful first feature
“Maria Full of Grace” quickly establish character. We see Maria, mind-numbingly
bored, her fingers covered in Band-Aids, as she removes sharp thorns from flowers
at her job at a rose plantation, and later, Maria with her boyfriend, still bored,
as she breaks away to climb up to the roof of a two story abandoned house just
to see the view. Maria is tough, independent, and intelligent. She is also strikingly
pretty, and achingly, palpably, full of longing.
before Maria puts herself in the path of danger, she is someone we care and worry
for. She lives in an overcrowded apartment. Her mother doesn’t understand her.
Her boyfriend certainly isn’t worthy of her. After she quits at the flower factory,
she needs to find a new job – and chances are there isn’t anything better waiting
for her. Worse, she is pregnant. Maria clearly wants so much from life, and so
little seems possible. When Maria meets Franklin, who can get her a high paying
gig as a drug mule, trafficking heroin from Colombia to the United States, the
worry we feel for Maria positively skyrockets.
Maria’s story, we learn what it means to be a drug mule. Like Stephen Friar’s
terrific “Dirty Pretty Things” about illegal immigrants in London who
earn cash by giving up organs, Marston completely immerses us in a harrowing,
alternate universe where young women without hope ingest sixty-two heavy rubber
pellets filled with heroin and travel long distances to seedy unknown hotel rooms
just to make their way in life.
presentation of logistic details is never less than compelling; what once was
an obscure concept becomes real. The stereotypical image of a Colombian drug dealer,
a handsome Al Pacino type in a slick suit with a machine gun, has been replaced
with the terrified faces of women. Not only Maria, but three other women are on
her flight from Colombia to New York, her childlike friend Blanca, the seemingly
more worldly Diana who says she is making one last run, and yet another woman
whose name we never learn as she is taken from the custom’s office in handcuffs.
“Maria Full of Grace” is a successful film because it connects
on an emotional level. Wisely, Marston decided not to make an overt political
statement. Instead, he focuses on the intimate details of one woman’s story. Catalina
Sandino Moreno, making her film debut as Maria, gives a moving performance that
will stay with you.
Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2004 Berline International Film Festival;
Mejor Actriz (Best Actress) at the 2004 Cartagena Film Festival in Colombia.
Catalina Sandino Moreno
did you practice the pellet swallowing? I didn’t practice. Why should I? I
think it was more about [if I seemed like] a pro doing it, like okay, Josh, that’s
it, it was not real. I think, especially for Josh, it was important to be real.
And, for me, just coming in and seeing these pellets and trying to swallow them,
I was like, “I’m not going to swallow that.” It’s not easy. It was really
hard, and that’s the scene in the movie.”
you meet any drug mules in preparation? My preparation was going to a flower
plantation, working for two weeks. I worked for two weeks there. Not dethorning
roses, just cutting them. And Maria was born there. Maria just appeared. I never
wanted to go and talk to mules because Maria doesn’t know how to be a mule.
And I didn’t either, so I was just relying on Josh how to do it. I didn’t
want to have another concept in my mind.
were the pellets made out of? If Josh didn’t say, I’m not going
to say either. He will kill me if I say it.
was your acting training? I was studying theater. When I was 13 years old,
I began studying theater. Then I was studying advertising, but I’ve always studied
theater. I was very shy and I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to just jump into
theater.” That was my background in acting. I’d never done anything professionally
in Colombia. To make this character was a challenge, because I’ve never done anything
like that. Maria was very different from who I am. I don’t live in a little
town. I was in college and I didn’t have to work because I needed money. I was
blessed because I had a different life than her. And for me, it was a challenge
to do it. Thanks to Josh and thanks to all of the actors, they made my work much
did you feel about getting in front of a camera? The good thing with that,
in this movie, the camera was hand held. And Josh told me that whenever you feel
that Maria needs to walk, just walk. The camera’s going to follow you, because
he just wanted to feel what Maria was feeling. And it was much easier for me [to
say], “You know what, Maria should just stand up.” Whatever I wanted
and whatever Josh approved, I just did it. It was easier. It was like theater.
prompted you to audition for the film? Curiosity. I was curious to meet this
American that was looking for a Colombian girl. I’d gone to a couple of auditions
in Colombia and they never chose me, so to hear there’s an American looking for
a Colombian, I really needed to see who he was and what this movie was about.
I read for Blanca the first time and the casting director saw me and said, “You
should just read for Maria, just to show the director.” And I read for Maria
and a couple of weeks later, they called me and said that Josh was coming to Colombia
to see a couple of girls and that I was in the three top girls.
you ever correct Josh on his perceptions about Colombia? Not
in terms of details, because as I told you, there were more details that Josh
knew that I didnt. There were more words and for him being an American, he had
to really rely on us to change the script and to do a lot of improvisations from
the script. We never changed the structure of the film but we changed the script
I think 100 %. What did he nail just right? The pellet. I didnt know how the
pellet was made. I didnt know that they cut the fingers of the surgical glove.
You live in Colombia, you know about mules and you know that they are there, but
you dont know the details. You dont know why they do it. You just know that
they are there and bad people and theyre in jail and they deserve it.
now, you just see what it is like to be a mule. So, he was incredible. Did you
ever worry this reflected your country in a poor light? I read the script
and I was so proud that an American was not stereotyping Colombia. He never showed
a gun. He never showed, like, bloody Maria’s face. He never did those types of
things, and for me it was incredible.
are the stereotypes we have about Colombia? That we just kill each other.
That’s not just it. There’s more about Colombia and what Josh did was an
incredible, incredible job and I’m so proud that he did it. That’s why a lot of
Colombians are so grateful with him, because he just put his eyes on Colombia
and he just made this incredible movie. And everybody in Colombia liked it. And
they’re very proud that somebody really put Colombians as they are.
the film say the way to get out is to come to the U.S.? Not just Colombians.
Like in America, there’s people from every part of the world. And not just
in my country that they think that the American dream is in America. Of course,
we heard about the American dream and if you go to America you’re going to
have a great life and you’re going to be a millionaire and you’re going
to just have a lot of kids and you’re going to be happy. But when you get
there and you go to Jackson Heights especially where all of the Colombian community
is, you’ll see their reality. And it’s very hard for them to just deal
with work every single day. If you don’t have papers, you have to work illegally
and if you’re caught, it’s very hard, and I don’t think [it’s]
just Colombians. If Colombians see the movie, it’s not “Oh my God, maybe
I’ll go to America.” I know that it’s not going to change people’s
life. Nothing can change people’s life. Just decisions. And if somebody sees
this movie, it just gets in the back of their mind how is this done? But they’re
people. They’re not just mules. I know they’re just good people and
this can happen to anybody. If you have an intestine, you can do it.
has your life changed since making this movie? Well, I’m making this
press thing. I’ve never done it, so it’s changed a lot. Now I’m
living in New York. I have an agent. It changed a lot. I’m alone in New York
and living by myself. So everything has changed. I have to be independent and
I feel like Maria. In Colombia, it’s a slower process to grow up, just live
with your family for 20-something years. Then you finish college. Then you get
to work, then you get married and then you go. But here, I’m growing up faster
and that’s good. I’m learning a lot of things that I should have learned
[when I was younger].
you continue doing films? I’m not going to jump in another project so fast.
I think I’m going to finish Maria’s cycle of being in the editing, of being in
the sound room. I think it is so incredible how they do movies. I think, when
I do another movie, I won’t be next to the director in the sound room, to see
how they mix the sound, or to be in the editing room. So, I think being so involved
in this movie, it’s so personal, that I just want to end this cycle. I just want
my head in one place. I don’t want to think about another project, but I’m reading.
I’m reading a lot. I’m reading what’s out there, what’s waiting
for me. But I’m just taking it really easy.
your family still in Colombia? Yes.
Do they plan to come over, or do
you send money home to help them? I don’t send money to my family, but what
Carla says in the movie, it’s real. She just took the phone and she heard
the grandma in the back of the room and like they’re asking how is life there?
It happened to me. My mother had been to New York with my brother and when I talk
to my father, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to talk to you because
tears come in my eyes.” To be here alone, it’s very hard. Especially
for Colombians. I don’t know for Latin America, but Colombians, we’re very
close. That’s why Jackson Heights is full of Colombians because they’re
all there and they really like being near them. It’s true.
there temptation to go back, or get them to come here? No,
no one wants to come her because to build a new life is very hard. My mother’s
a doctor, so she’s there and my brother has finished school, so he’s
fine. They’re all fine. They’re happy there. And of course the temptation
to go back home is always in my mind, but right now I’m married to Maria
for a couple of months. I’m sure before this year ends I’ll be back
you ever been stopped by customs like Maria is in the film? I
was studying in New York. I had to go back to Colombia to get my student visa
and so, I was coming back to New York, and they stopped me. And it is a very weird
feeling when you just put your feet in America coming from a Colombian flight.
They’re waiting for you, they’re there. Their eyes are wide open, and you feel
like you did something bad, even though you haven’t done anything, but you’re
there with your bag, just waiting for them to stop you. And when they stopped
me, I’m like, “Okay, I know I have to be calm.” But of course I wasn’t
calm, I was crazy. My heart rate was 1,000 and my hands were shaking. Of course,
they saw, I was so nervous that they stopped me more and they were keeping me
asking questions. I remember, at a point, I was thinking, “Okay, I have to
be calm,” because I know they might put me in a little room. But it was so
weird. I was, like, acting to be calm and I was not calm. And of course they knew
they believe you were doing a movie? I didn’t tell them. I was so crazy.
I just wanted to get out of there. It was a horrible experience. They padded me,
they took my wallet. They were, like, “How much money do you have?”
I was, like, “Oh, my God, hopefully I didn’t spend ten dollars.” I was
trying to get the amount really close to the amount that was in my wallet. “So,
like $200?” And they counted it. It was very crazy. At a point I was very
mad, I was like, “I’m just a student” And I cried. It was a horrible,
they ask you these suspicious questions? Yeah. I have a work visa, I have
a student visa, I have a visiting permit. So I have three visas in my passport.
They’re like, “Now, you’re a student? Hmm.” And I’m like,
“Oh my God, I’m just going to die here. I’m just going to die.”
And they keep saying, “Have you visited New York before on the work visa?”
They tried to make me fail. And of course I failed I think 1000 times, asking
those questions, responding to those questions. At the last part, I was really
mad. I cried. I’m like, “You know what? I shouldn’t be here. I’m
a guest in your country. I’m a student making a movie.” Of course I
sound like a crazy person. So of course they didn’t believe me, but they
were so sick that I was crying and they made people look at me, I don’t know why
they let me go.
did the director say when you told him about that? He just laughed. He was
like, “Oh my God, that’s so funny.” Of course, Maria would have
been caught. Thank God she was more brave. He was laughing. “Oh, so you experienced
that.” It was not funny at all. It was not funny for me.
did you learn such good English? Oh, thank you. In school. I went to a British
school in Colombia. I studied for 14 years there. Not English, just high school.
You’re lucky that I’m speaking good English. Sometimes I just get out
of my bed and I just need to speak Spanish.
you do a role in English? I really want to do my next role in Spanish. I’m
just waiting for the role. I don’t want to jump so fast. I’m very proud to
be Latin, I’m very proud to be Colombian and, to me, it’s very important to just
keep with that.
World Independent Film
Full of Grace
away in a Colombian flower sweatshop, 17 year-old Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno)
is tired of her work, her family, and the unresponsiveness of her boyfriend. When
she learns that she’s pregnant, Maria discovers a quick, but dangerous, way to
make big bucks: to volunteer herself as a drug mule. Asked to ingest small heroin
pellets and fly to New York for retrieval, Maria agrees, but soon realizes just
how hazardous the mission can be.
year, Lukas Moodysson’s `Lilya 4-Ever’ was a powerful portrait of the potential
hell found when a teenage girl starts to blindly trust. It was a stark, horrific,
and riveting film. The same can be said of Joshua Marston’s `Maria Full of Grace.’
While it doesn’t follow the sexual exploitation route of `Lilya,’ it moves on
to another experience that is shared by many unfortunate souls across the world:
that of an intestinal drug courier.
doesn’t fool around with `Maria.’ There’s little unnecessary dramatic padding
to the story, very little preaching, and he’s wise enough to allow the natural
horror of the circumstances these characters find themselves in to command the
way. It’s a cautious, yet unforced, directing job by Marston, but he doesn’t need
to do much. Not only is the film a harrowing portrait of lamentable decisions,
it also appeals to that `Fear Factor’ urge to stare at disbelief at what some
people do to their bodies. Those with touchy gag reflexes should consider a bathroom
break during the scene where Maria attempts to ingest her heroin pellets, ending
up with over 60 capsules of death in her belly, right before she boards an endless,
traumatic fight to New York City. It’s a tremendous sequence that supplies enough
tension and mouth-agape amazement for two movies.
the tale switches over to New York, `Maria’ slips away from horror mode and begins
to dig into the cold reality of what Colombian immigrants face in America. Selling
the role with sublime control is actress Catalina Sandino Moreno, who makes her
film debut with `Maria.’ The character requires a burning interior monologue that
the audience is never privy to, and Moreno communicates that frustration and dread
with frightening accuracy, never succumbing to self-pity, for Maria is not an
innocent character. Maria is head strong, and she’s chosen this life, not forced
into it. Moreno and Marston are wise to keep the material away from uncomplicated
sympathy grabs. It’s a wonderful performance and an outstanding film. —— 9/10
– ACTRIZ COLOMBIANA NOMINADA AL OSCAR DE LA ACADEMIA
Original: María, llena eres de gracia
Duración: 101 min
Guión: Joshua Marston
Música: Jacobo Lieberman
& Leonardo Heiblum
Fotografía: Jim Denault
Sandino Moreno, Yenny Paola Vega, Guilied López
Crítica 2003: Berlín:
Mejor actriz (ex-aequo): Catalina Sandino Moreno. 2004: Deauville: Gran
Premio, Premio del Público, Premio de la Crítica Internacional. Berlín:Silver
Bear for Best Actress at the 2004 Berline International Film Festival; Cartagena:
Mejor Actriz (Best Actress) at the 2004 Cartagena Film Festival in Colombia;
Los Angeles: nominada al Premio Oscar de la Academia el pasado martes 25 de
Enero como mejor actríz femenina en un papel protagónico.
La joven de 17 años María vive en una pequeña población
al norte de Bogotá. Comparte casa con su madre, su abuela, su hermana y
el pequeño hijo de ésta. María trabaja en una gran plantación
de rosas, donde preparan y empaquetan las flores. María y Blanca, su mejor
amiga, son las encargadas de retirar las espinas de los tallos y preparar las
flores para la exportación. Es una tarea dura y deben seguir reglas muy
estrictas. La única distracción de María son los bailes en
la plaza del mercado a los que va los fines de semana con su novio Juan. María
es muy impulsiva. Un día, después de discutir con uno de sus jefes,
se despide del trabajo. Su familia no entiende por qué ha dejado el trabajo,
nadie sospecha que María está embarazada.
probar suerte en la ciudad. Durante el viaje, se topa con Franklin, al que ya
conocía. Es un joven acostumbrado al mundo y cuya seguridad impresiona
mucho a María. Le habla de un empleo como correo. María entiende
enseguida que se trata de pasar drogas a Estados Unidos, tragando paquetitos de
heroína. Ganará 5.000 dólares en un viaje. Eso basta para
convencerla. Lucy ya ha hecho el viaje dos veces con éxito y enseña
a María cómo prepararse físicamente y también lo que
debe hacer si las cosas salen mal. Blanca no tarda en ser reclutada por los vendedores.
Unos días más tarde, las dos amigas suben a un avión con
destino a Estados Unidos, María lleva 62 paquetitos de heroína en
el estómago. (FILMAFFINITY)
historia durísima, hecha a pie de precipicio (…) Se ve y se oye magníficamente,
tiene verosimilitud y al tiempo calidad técnica, tiene fragor narrativo
y va directamente al grano supurante de la historia (…) la gran sorpresa: su
protagonista femenina” (E. Rogríguez Marchante: Diario ABC)
“Muy buena. (…) Una película contada con toda la sencillez imaginable,
pero también con toda la eficacia y minuciosidad posibles (…) perfecto
equilibrio entre los resortes melodramáticos y la autoexigencia realista
que impregna el relato de principio a fin.” (Alberto Bermejo: Diario El Mundo)