Ave Maria | Chicago Reader

Ave Maria

Her mother was Indian, her father a Spanish duke whose wealth and status enable Maria to live in a mission in New Spain without taking her vows. There she masters botany, astronomy, and cartography, directing the monks in making maps of the region. Threatened by her autonomy and anxious to exploit her father's fortune, the priests put an end to her studies, nearly driving her insane. But the loss of a secular purpose inspires an epiphany, and she begins using her knowledge and skill to ease the suffering of the indigenous people—frustrating the priests and angering the conquistadors, whose goals are furthered by the spread of disease. Much of the power of this fictional 1999 hagiography, a disarmingly feminist examination of colonialism that's as intricate visually as it is thematically, comes from the complexity of the allegorical characters; with one exception, no one is merely self-interested or selfless. Eduardo Rossoff directed a screenplay by Camille Thomasson; with Tere Lopez Tarin.

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