While many may have been shocked to have seen the film The Forgiveness Of Blood on the recently announced Criterion release schedule for the month of October, director Joshua Marston has become one of the film world’s most discussed independent brands. Never one to pull punches with his often challenging features, Marston has become a mainstay on the independent scene, and is now among the ranks of directors who have been ‘Criterion-approved.’ However, it’s his feature film debut that may still be the film that his name has become synonymous with.
Entitled Maria Full Of Grace, Marston’s 2003 film follows the story of a young woman in Bogota, Colombia, who attempts to get out of her current place in life by becoming a drug mule. Making a star out of its lead actress, Catalina Sandino Moreno, the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab vetted and Sundance Film Festival-approved debut feature from Marston has become considered one of the greatest debut feature films of the decade past, and that only begins to scratch the surface of why this film is truly worthy of a Criterion DVD and Blu-ray.
With only two films to his credit (and eight years in between), Marston as a filmmaker is a tough one to get a hold on. Maria‘s greatest attribute may in fact be the star making performance at its core, but it’s Marston who holds this ship together. Featuring a distinctly muted sense of style and an even more earth-tone tinged color palette, the film is best described as a coming-of-age feature, but placing the lead character in the most dire of situations. Simply attempting to be a fly on the proverbial wall, Marston doesn’t judge his lead character, neither visually nor on the page, but instead bluntly shows the world to what extent a human being will go to to help themselves, and those who they love most dear, something that in today’s immigration-focused political landscape, should be something that any and everyone remember when attempting to discuss reasons for why people try to enter a new land illegally.
And thankfully, Marston has some help from a bravura performance from star Sandino Moreno.
Moreno plays the 17-year old girl with dreams of helping her family, and in turn gives the screen one of its best female performances, or performance in general, gender be damned, in years. Playing a character directly out of the family tree of various classic characters who attempt to act far beyond their years, Moreno gives the film a great sense of not only truth, but undying innocence and heart . As Marston does with his direction and writing, Moreno never seems to judge the character she is playing, Â but instead give us a woman who is doing something dangerous and in many cases ‘wrong,’ but for only the best of reasons. In this economically ravished landscape that has fraught this nation for the past half decade or so, Maria is only attempting to live a perverted American Dream. Taking control of her situation, she will stop at nothing to help her family. Culminating in one of the most tense and intense final acts of its respective release year, Maria Full Of Grace is simply a star making turn for an actress who will definitely be heard from for years to come. Â A performance nearly entirely told through Moreno’s almost Maria Falconetti-like face, Moreno’s Maria is simply put, one of the best on screen performances of the past ten years.
With an absolute knock-out supporting cast including Guilied Lopez, Patricia Rae, and the man who introduces our Maria to the mulling game, John Alex Toro as Franklin, this meditation on the American Dream and to what extent man will go to to help their family and themselves is easily one of the past 10 years strongest debut feature films. Now nearing its ten year anniversary, Criterion could do far worse than releasing this modern masterpiece, from a director the company seems to already admire. A true-blue US release of the film on Blu-ray appears to be non-existent, although a region free Blu-ray is not only available, but appears to be on sale for 54% off on Amazon (purchase it here), so with a decade under its belt next year, Criterion should definitely give this film a glance over, as it will fit absolutely perfect among their 2013 release schedule.