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Nona - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
Steve's Livejournal
SIFF's capsule summary: "When a young Honduran woman falls for a handsome traveler and becomes intrigued by his wanderlust, she joins him on a fateful journey to the United States in this harrowing, compassionate thriller that puts a face to Central America's human trafficking industry." (Guatemala, 2017, 90 minutes)
SIFF link: Nona

Young Honduran woman Nona (Sulem Calderon) works at a mortuary, doing make-up on the dead to make them beautiful for the funerals. Business is good because of all the gang-related murders. She grew up thinking it was normal to see murder victims lying on the street. Hipster-looking Hecho (Jesy McKinney) flirts with her and she brushes him off. But he keeps turning up, like a charming stalker. He offers her a chance to travel to the US, where her mother had fled to escape the murderous gangs. She can't afford the travel, but he'll let her pay him back. His Vespa isn't up to the trip, so they set out in a picturesque odyssey by buses and even a sailboat. But the final segment is aboard a truck, riding with an unseen man who insists that she be blindfolded so she can't describe him to the police in the event that she's caught. Hecho promises to meet her on the other side of the border to give her a ride the rest of the way to see her mother.

But all along the trip, things seem too good to be true. And it is. How will Nona survive the nightmare?

6 Almost Good Writer-director Michael Polish (husband of Kate Bosworth) knows he is making an issue-awareness drama about human trafficking, but for most of the film he presents the story as a cheerful road trip movie. And the cheerful road trip movie portion is beautifully photographed, and mostly engaging if occasionally slow. The twist into human trafficking nightmare is foreshadowed just a little with an encounter with a surly truck driver (Giancarlo Ruiz, I think) who has a disturbing conversation with Hecho – just outside Nona's hearing. When the nightmare finally arrives, it's softened, as if the film is made for audiences who are unaware of human trafficking and the director is afraid to make it as horrible as it really is.

Sulem Calderon is very good as the innocent young mortuary painter turned victim. Jesy McKinney is very good as the man who isn't what he seems. Kate Bosworth (who also produced the film) plays a detective who interviews a human trafficking victim, but the interview is mostly Kate Bosworth speaking to the film's audience than the detective interviewing the victim. The guy playing the surly truck driver is very good, maybe the best acting in the film. There's also a cop who seems to think that Spanish-speaking people can understand English, as long as he shouts; I don't know what to make of him.

The soundtrack is excellent, and does a good job filling in the dull parts on the road trip.

In spite of toning down the awfulness of being a human trafficking victim, the film is good most of the way through. But the conclusion is shaky, and the speech by Kate Bosworth is a nice public service announcement, but poor narrative. Overall, I can still rate the film almost good.

If you want an excellent movie on this topic, look for the disturbing Eden or the harrowing Lilya 4-ever instead of this toned-down issue-awareness drama.

Languages: Spanish, with English subtitles, and some English.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating (yet), but I'd guess it would rate a hard "PG-13" or soft "R", depending on whether the one assault scene is treated as OK because it's mostly off-screen or too terrible for "PG-13" eyes even if it's mostly off-screen.

Screening: 10 am, Pacific Place (room 4).
Audience: a typical SIFF press screening crowd, somewhat over 100, about 285 seats (estimated capacity).

Snacks: none.

Ads and announcements: no ads at press screenings; SIFF volunteer "R" provided announcements.

Notes to myself:

SIFF statistics: 35 films (29 features, 6 shorts), 30 time slots, 3 parties. ("J": only two parties.)

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