Maria (2023)

Maria had its UK première on Friday 27th Oct at the Halloween FrightFest

“Between the mind that plans and the hand that builds, there must be a mediator, and this must be the heart,” reads the text that opens Gabriel Grieco and Nicanor Loreti’s Maria. The content of the text is rather less important than its source, Fritz Lang’s influential expressionist sci-fi Metropolis (1927). For between this retrofuturist quote, and the text which follows – stating that Artificial Intelligence, having revolutionised the world in 2023, is about to revolutionise the porn industry – there is an indirect promise of some sort of fembot or gynoid to come. 

In 2024, Los Angeles, global pornstar Maria Black (Daria Panchenko) is drinking at the wheel of her red convertible and distracted by her girlfriend Ana (Megan McGarrah), when she crashes into an oncoming van, and is left horrifically injured – and then her body mysteriously vanishes from the hospital where she has been lying in a coma. Assumed dead, Maria reemerges three years later in Buenos Aires, very much alive and ready for her next porn shoot, to be filmed in an old abandoned building with giallo-esque lighting. 

Asked “what happened?” by her scene partner Nacho Vitale (William Prociuk), Maria replies, “A group of Russian anarchist feminists saved me, and they transformed me into a cyborg with superhuman powers,” before laughing with him and saying that in fact her girlfriend was looking after her out of the public eye. Once her scene with Nacho is underway, directed by Dario Georges (named for Dario Argento and played by the actual director Grieco), Maria has a fit and dies mid-coitus. While sound recordist Alina (Malena Sánchez) and to an extent her ex-lover – and makeup artist – Mel (Sofía Gala Castiglione) want to call the police, director Dario, his assistant Ricky Sommers (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and the DP Marco Suarez (Ezequiel De Almeida) would all prefer to keep the authorities away from off an illegal porn shoot and the drugs on set. Then the visiting doctor (Juan Bautista Stagnaro) makes an indecent proposal that would involve exploiting the iconic, now dead pornstar in a far worse manner, and soon the other two women are left bound and gagged in another room while three men in masks (Juan Polemino, Demián Salomón, Sergio Boris) arrive to do unspeakable things to Maria in exchange for a large case of cash. 

With an obvious divide between its male and female characters, Maria is, like Hèctor Hernández Vicens’ The Corpse of Anna Fritz (2015), presenting the monstrous treatment of women by men through extreme acts of objectification. It is not just the readiness with which the male members of this film crew forcibly silence and sequester their female colleagues, but also their willingness to traffic in women’s bodies in a manner that goes way beyond mere pornification (and yet implicitly starts with it). It is, however, not just men who seek to instrumentalise Maria, but also women like her former manager Millie (Magui Bravi) with their own plans, so that Grieco and Loreti’s film will soon also be drawing on Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987) and the Terminator franchise (especially its third entry), as this ‘perfect asset’ simultaneously (and contradictorily) for the sex industry and for the feminist cause engages in a sci-fi form of rape revenge. This is a lurid, trashy work that never takes its themes too seriously, and at times feels as though it might have been pieced together by AI fed on the sleazy schlock of the Eighties and Nineties – but it has women’s liberation and empowerment at its heart.

strap: Gabriel Grieco and Nicanor Loreti’s sci-fi feature finds a dead pornstar’s body being used for more than one purpose

© Anton Bitel