Nona is hard to pin down. On one hand, offbeat, creative, and technical choices feel like they act as a disappointing detriment to the story that director Michael Polish is aiming for. However, undeniable charm and good intentions shine through the muddy waters and create a unique, authentic experience.
The film follows an unnamed Honduran girl, whom we are told to call Nona (an abbreviation for ‘nobody’s name’, which is revealed later in a prostitution house). Nona works in funeral care, but seeks something more – to see her mother in the US.
Hecho, a ‘Mexican passing through’, asks if she wishes to come to the States with him. She agrees, believing this offer to be one of mysticism and amiable altruism. The story takes a sharp turn around the 60-minute mark, and the breadcrumbs of Hecho’s shady dealings come to a culmination as Nona is forced into prostitution and human trafficking.
An indisputably important issue, however, Nona struggles to keep up with its’ own grand ideas. A feeling of incoherence echoes through the film in its road trip portion, and only when the story turns and all is explained directly to the viewer does the film break into a sprint to get the narrative wrapped up. For the sake of ease, the film will, from here on out, be split into two sections – the journey, and the destination. The journey, before Nona submits to Hecho and is trafficked, is packed full of landscape cinematography, almost pretentious art house dialogue, and sweet, quiet chemistry. The destination is, albeit drained of some power due to being so late in the run time, helplessly heartbreaking. This section feels the most coherent, the pacing feels better and the slightly shaky plot is honed in on, despite in an obvious, easily digested fashion.
Sulem Calderon (Nona), a newcomer, breaks out in this section of the film. Her focus on the sense of solidarity between the victims, instead of an overworked, gratuitous representation of violence and rape, speaks to the faith that Nona has in her religion, her world, and her own spirit. In spite of her character being relatively vague, the chemistry she has with Jesy McKinney (Hecho) becomes a fairy-tale force, and the presence she has on screen is an impressive feat. In tandem with an upbeat and quirky score, colorful and loving cinematography, and luckily, a decently intriguing voice-over, their platonic voyage is a sufficient way to spend an hour of run time.
The film ends with Nona being taken in by police, and Kate Bosworth’s detective character questioning her. Bosworth gives a monologue explaining the events of the previous 85 minutes – each glimmer of betrayal by Hecho comes to light, and each questionable choice melts away as the story comes to a climax, mirroring the first shot, settling on Nona’s face. The detective asks her name, to which she responds – Nona. The plot falls into place for everyone. However, Nona is still unaware, detached through a language barrier. Like a lot of the other victims, she has forgotten her name, her identity. All that is left in the frame is her face. All that is left for her is her physical form – what is tangible, and what can be used. Her body.
Nona has a murky presentation, and an unclear aim at times, but likeable actors and an ambitious, meaningful story make up for a trivial few unmotivated cuts and a simple forgivable roughness. In all its’ good intentions, I wanted to like Nona, and after a little bit of thought, I think I do.