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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Many Marías Equal Singular Documentary

“What’s in a name?” mused Juliet from her balcony in that famed Shakespearean scene. The nonpoetic reply to Juliet’s question is: a lot.

A name, in many ways, defines you. It is what you are known as for the duration of your existence. It is how people refer to you or address you. And it is what makes you unique in a world of billions.

But what if you had the same name as about 6,300 other people in your home country alone? Could you still be considered unique if you were just one of thousands, all named the same?

That is what the Costa Rican documentary “Las cinco vidas de María Rodríguez” (“The Five Lives of María Rodríguez”) sets out to determine.

Directors Alonso Arias and Gustavo Loría, who were awarded a grant by DOCTV Iberoamérica to create the documentary, found in the Supreme Elections Tribunal birth registry that approximately 6,300 women in Costa Rica are named María Rodríguez.

“DOCTV held a national contest and awarded the winner a grant to do a Costa Rican documentary,” Arias said. “We submitted the idea of doing a documentary about the people with the most popular name in Costa Rica. At the time of our proposal, our hypothesis was actually that Carlos Jiménez would be the most popular name.”

DOCTV Iberoamérica, which promotes documentary production and broadcasting in Latin America and Iberia, awarded Arias and Loría the grant for the originality of their idea. The directors soon afterward discovered that the most popular name in Costa Rica is not Carlos Jiménez but rather María Rodríguez. In the birth registry in August 2009, they found that some 6,300 of Costa Rica’s roughly 2 million women share the name.

Arias and Loría had to pare that number down to five for their documentary. They were able to eliminate half the candidates when they learned that about 3,000 of the María Rodríguezes didn’t have registered phone numbers. From there, the directors studied the candidates’ demographics, such as age, economic status and place of residence, and trimmed the number to 250.

Each of the 250 was called for a telephone interview, and then 40 were visited personally. Once the directors thought they had the right five María Rodríguezes for the documentary, they visited them each a second time, just to assure themselves they were indeed the five they wanted.

“It was very important for us to attempt to show a snapshot of five very different Costa Rican women,” Arias said. “When we went back to interview them a second time, we got an even deeper insight into their characters and stories. As we learned more about them, we knew we had the five women we wanted for the documentary.”

Though they share the same name, the five women are indeed very different from one another. Ranging in age from 21 to 57, the five Marías – María Fernanda Rodríguez, María Lilliana Rodríguez, María Luisa Rodríguez and two named María Auxiliadora Rodríguez – all live in different  areas of Costa Rica and have different interests, occupations, pleasures, worries, struggles and motivations.

But they do have one thing in common, aside from their names: Each María makes some sort of personal sacrifice to commit time and care to others. The film aims to highlight the charisma of the women and the humble pleasure they take from their seemingly effortless commitment to service.

“We attempted to show all the women and their relationships with their families, their hobbies and the happy and sad circumstances of their individual lives,” Arias said.

“The element of service just revealed itself naturally. The commitment to service of the women in this country is far, far greater than that of the men.”

María Fernanda Rodríguez, the youngest of the five, is a 21-year-old student from Santa Bárbara de Heredia, north of San José. She plays cello in the Philharmonic Orchestra and volunteers her time to teach music to children. She is also starting an educational day care center for kids.

María Lilliana Rodríguez, 36, is an executive at a multinational organization and a resident of Belén, northwest of San José. She is divorced, is learning guitar, loves Led Zeppelin, has a Robert Plant tattoo on her stomach and recently adopted a daughter with a neglected upbringing. The documentary includes clips of the numerous legal procedures that were necessary for the adoption.

María Luisa Rodríguez is a 53-year-old nurse who works in the Hospital de la Anexión in northwestern Costa Rica’s NicoyaPeninsula. She has three children and spends much of her free time taking care of her elderly parents and aunt.

One María Auxiliadora Rodríguez, 39, is the owner of Minisuper Los Rodríguez in San José’s Barrio Cuba. She raises her three children, gives her all to provide them food and shelter and, during the course of filming, was stabbed outside of her store in an attempted robbery.

The other María Auxiliadora Rodríguez, 57, cooks for children at a school in San Pedro de Poás, northwest of the capital. She is a cheerful mother of five who is warm and sharp-witted; several of her sarcastic quips drew laughs from the audience at a recent screening in San José’s Cine Magaly.

While the 52-minute documentary jumps in and out of the lives of the five protagonists, the film gradually entwines the stories through the understanding that all of the Marías are committed, strong, humble and compassionate Ticas.

“The joy of this project is to see some of the women of this great country on the big screen,” Loría said. “They may not be Hollywood stars, but they deserve recognition for their efforts.”

At the conclusion of the screening, the directors hosted a party for hundreds of María Rodríguezes living in Costa Rica. All were given name tags, danced to live music and drank. Though most of the women had never met each other, on the night they were joined together, they celebrated the one thing they had in common: They are the María Rodríguezes of Costa Rica.


Las cinco vidas de María Rodríguez” will air on Canal 13 Sept. 26 at 6 p.m., as part of a 14-part DOCTV Iberoamérica documentary series. Directors Alonso Arias and Gustavo Loría both work for the production company Fulfierros (


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