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USA 2018
Directed by
Michael Polish
91 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


I’ve never been a fan of Michael Polish, a writer-director who, somewhat surprisingly to me, has managed to carve out a modest 20 year long career making art house movies that I assume few people ever see. His latest, Nona, is probably his most accessible effort to date even if it has a twist that removes it considerably from what, for the most part, it appears to be - a laid-back, low budget romance/road-trip movie.

In hindsight there is a clue to where the film is heading in the opening shots of a young and very unhappy looking woman in a darkened room being asked to identify herself. It cuts from this straight to a Buena Vista Social Club style depiction of hectic, rubbish-strewn third world Latino street life underscored by percussively rhythmic music. From there, without any explanation, it jumps straight into the story of Nona (Sulem Calderon, making her feature film debut), a spunky young funeral parlour cosmetician and Hecho (Jesy McKinney) a handsome itinerant whom she meets on the street. Attracted by Hecho’s easy charm and bohemian good looks Nona decides to hook her star to his and go with him to America where her only living relative, her mother, lives. As Hecho reasonably points out to her, America is the land of opportunity and, as he is willing to help her, what is there to keep her from it?

What follows charts a seemingly platonic, rather sweet, friendship between the two young people as they wend their way overland from Honduras through Guatemala to Mexico with Polish packaging his story with a persuasively travelogue-ish mix of picturesque scenery and vibrant music. When they get to Mexico however the twist kicks in and the story takes a 180 degree turn. It’s stunning move on Polish’s part, giving maximum impact to the development of his story although by very virtue of that especially as the director, who was also his own DOP, switches to an elliptical filming style in garishly-lit, tawdry interiors some audiences may feel somewhat gyped. But then that’s a small price to pay in comparison to Nona’s and that is, after all, the point of the film.

Typically, Polish’s fondness for the off-beat tends to limit his appeal but here with a substantial concern simply yet potently articulated and helped by engaging performances from Calderon and McKinney, he delivers his most effective film yet, one that deserves to be seen.




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