Although having over 500 ads and 20 videos to his name, this is Colombian director José Luis Rugeles Gracia’s second feature.
Alias Maria tells the story of 13-year-old guerrilla fighter Maria, stuck in the jungle in her wellies, sexually active and touting a gun almost as big as she is. The film opens with Maria peeping into a shack where one of her comrades is giving birth. Yet pregnancy, unlike sex with minors, is strictly a no-go, the doctor dishing out contraceptives and performing abortions more often, it seems, than he deals with any other kind of bloodshed.
The women and girls suffer different kinds of battle wounds in this jungle platoon. It transpires that Maria is keeping her own pregnancy under wraps, scavenging for the bloody rags of her companions to prove that she’s menstruating whilst surreptitiously suffering from morning sickness.
When Maria is charged with carrying the baby to its mother’s family home, she embarks on the journey with three others: Maria’s boyfriend Byron, Mauricio and Yuldor. There is nothing very poetic about Byron. He is a hardened soldier and there’s a feeling that he sees this girl is sexual fodder. Mauricio is kinder, a nappy-changing helper who has enlisted Yuldor, who looks about ten, to join the party.
Seeking shelter at the farmstead of an elderly couple, whose sons are buried in the garden, the old woman says to Maria, ‘this is no place for a child’ and though she is referring to the baby, viewers are acutely aware that these fighters are predominantly children themselves.
Although almost entirely filmed in the lush jungle, Gracia has gone for a bleached-out tone. We are surrounded by fertility, from the backdrop to Maria’s hidden pregnancy, but any lushness or warmth is leeched from the screen, for after the decades-long war the director depicts a barren country slowly killing itself. Yet in Maria, and in her resistance to her conditions, there is a glimpse of hope.
Her determination to bear a child and to defy the men who seek to control her tells us that perhaps the answer to Colombia’s problems lies in its young women. Newcomer Karen Torres generally has an impassive face and there is little dialogue to give us a hint of her thoughts. We also know nothing of these children’s backgrounds or how they came to be in the jungle as recruits. Perhaps this is intentional, Gracia preferring to depict Maria as a Colombian everygirl, her individual story one of many.
Maria is a powerful representation of hope for the future and Gracia demonstrates that this young generation has a chance of survival.