Directed by Peter-Calin Netzer

Romania, 2003

Color, 97 minutes

Cast: Diana Dumbrava, Horatiu Malaele, Serban Ionescu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Ana Ularu, Rona Hartner, Ionut Brutaru, Florin Calinescu, Magda Catone, Marinela Chelaru, Eduard Paliu, Florin Zamfirescu

Set during the early years of Romania’s transition to democracy, Maria is a window into the lives of those brutally excluded by the emerging free-market system that restructured the economy and reshaped the old socialist repertoire of life-choices and values. A working-class Romanian couple, Maria and Ion, live in abject poverty on the outskirts of an unnamed city. The fall of the communist regime finds the couple still waiting to be assigned an apartment by the socialist State; yet their hope to move out of the unlit basement where they are raising their seven children seems lost when an American investor takes over the factory where Ion works and dismisses the workers.

Besides the sexual harassment that she has to withstand at work, Maria is forced to contend with her husband’s violence and gambling. She is less and less able to make ends meet. After Maria files a complaint for domestic abuse, Ion leaves town and Maria turns down an offer to sell her youngest child to a generous Frenchman.  Instead, she resorts to selling her body in order to ensure her children’s survival.  Although hope glimmers when a TV station covers Maria’s story, her destiny takes another unforeseen turn that raises additional questions of ethics.

Alex Lefter