SIFF Review: ‘Nona’


Nona is a film co-produced by Michael Polish and wife and actress Kate Bosworth.  Bosworth also acts in this film near the end as American detective Klein.  Bosworth recently received the Founder’s Award from the Richmond International Festival, which they give to a filmmaker who “champions stories of truths often untold or overlooked.”  In this case, the issue is the ugly world of sex-trafficking, and also the realities of Hispanics who try to cross our border.  I did find it interesting that Bosworth received the award rather than both Bosworth and Polish, since Polish is both the writer and the director of the film.

Though the film is listed as a Guatemala entry for the Seattle International Film Festival 2018 (SIFF), the main character Nona, played ever so beautifully by Sulem Calderon, is actually Honduran.  She is enticed by a young man nicknamed Hecho to follow her dreams to go to the U.S., to seek out her mother there, as her father and brothers have all been killed by the lawless Honduran gangs.

Hecho is played by Jesy McKinney, who gives an impressive performance.  He is well-educated and “bieneducado” in the Spanish usage of the word, meaning “well-brought up, “well-mannered.”  He appears, from an early scene, to be a religious young man, and without doubt he is charming.  I would trust my daughter with him, if I had one.

Their trip through Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, by various means of transportation, is near-idyllic.  In one scene, they stay a night with Hecho’s cousin where Nona beautifully relates the story of “The Island of the Blue Dolphins” to the cousin’s children.  It’s all very pleasant.  And never once does Hecho try to “jump her bones.”

One already knows inevitably from various write-ups, including this one, that Nona’s dreams will turn into nightmares upon reaching the U.S. border and then Los Angeles.  The transition from good to bad is abrupt, as it should be.  The overtly meanest character we meet in the film is an American police officer who arrests her for just walking along minding her own business.  He treats her like trash, refusing to speak any Spanish to her, if he even knew any (that alone to me should be a crime in states with large populations of Spanish-speakers).   The contrast of America welcoming these mostly very good, kind people with “give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses” with today’s cruel anti-immigrant and especially anti-Hispanic or anti-Islamic immigrant policies, and the total lack of understanding and respect for those people by so many Americans, is represented very aptly by this one abusive officer.

I think the journey to the U.S. went on over long and American audiences may find the travel segment of the film lacking in dramatic tension, though this part of the film is essential for contrasting with the latter part of the film.  I also think it would have served dramatic effect to see more of the nightmare life she is forced into in the U.S.  Though we expect something to happen throughout the film, for me the biggest question is about Hecho.  Will he turn out to be a “good guy” or a “bad guy?”  Will he come to her rescue or is he the cause of her plight?  To answer these questions, you’ll need to see the film.  The other part you will need to find out is the significance of her name, Nona, which is not her real name at all.

This movie was reviewed as part of coverage for the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF).

By Karen Samdahl
Related categories: Movie Reviews, SIFF