One of the most compelling films of 2004, first-time indie director Joshua Marston's Maria Full of Grace is a drug movie that has no machine guns and no car chases, just an unforgettable portrait of a sixteen-year-old Colombian girl (played by the extraordinary Catalina Sandino Moreno) forced by circumstance to become a "mule" who swallows scores of balloons stuffed with cocaine, then gets on a plane for New York to deliver the stuff. Although exploited by sweatshop bosses, a loser boyfriend and the banal, shabby drug dealers, Maria refuses to play victim. Feisty and intelligent, she thinks quickly under pressure, improvises when she must and, against the odds, tries to wring a new life out of despair and abuse. The atmosphere is harrowing, and the supporting cast is superb -- especially Patricia Rae, as the sister of another mule, and Orlando Tobon, who, on screen and off, serves as a counselor to Colombians with problems in New York.
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Maria Full of Grace screens Saturday and Sunday, December 4 and 5, as part of the University of Colorado's International Film Series. Shows are at 7 and 9:30 p.m. each night in Muenzinger Auditorium on the Boulder campus. For more information, go to www.internationalfilmseries.com