With a title clearly taken from the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer, Maria Full of Grace is a film that one would expect to be packed with religious references and symbolism. However, it isn’t. Instead, Maria Full of Grace is a straightforward, full-fledged drama that deals with the innate human desire to escape poverty. Maria Full of Grace is a gripping and gut-wrenching motion picture that works on every level. The characters are real; the storyline is well-paced and completely credible; and the overall impression the film gives off is distressing, yet ultimately bittersweet.
Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is a young woman living in poverty-stricken Columbia. To help with her family’s income, she de-thorns roses in a flower factory. There, in addition to getting her fingertips repeatedly pricked, Maria has a demanding boss whom she cannot stand. Eventually, Maria quits her job – much to her family’s dismay – and begins to search elsewhere for employment.
After breaking up with her boyfriend Juan (Wilson Guerrero), who is also the father of her soon-to-be born baby, Maria meets Franklin (John Alex Toro)—a suave, nice-looking man who says he can find her a job. Maria shows interest, and Franklin leads her to Javier (Jaime Osorio Gómez), a drug lord who hires young women to serve as mules to transport heroin into the United States. Javier tells Maria that he will pay her roughly $5,000 (almost 10 million pesos) to swallow pellets (the size of horse pills) full of drugs, retain them in her stomach until she reaches the U.S., and then allow them to exit her digestive tract upon her arrival.
Not only does Maria agree to the deal, but so does her best friend Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega). Both Maria and Blanca end up following through in their attempts to carry the illegal cargo through U.S. customs and beyond. While they are on their journey, they are accompanied by Lucy (Guilied Lopez), a two-time veteran of the process. Collectively, all three young ladies are aware that if one single pellet were to burst in their stomachs, the results would be lethal. Nonetheless, they are all willing to accept the risk in order to provide a promising future for both themselves and their families.