The new film From Nowhere dramatizes one of the most relevant plights in America today—the life of undocumented teenagers. With news breaking just today that our new president considered deploying 100,000 National Guard troops to round up millions of undocumented people in America, there’s no shortage of panic and alarm about this issue. But lost in the feverish national debate is a sense of what it feels like to be the target of the policies. To its credit, director Matthew Newton’s film fills this gap with confidence, skill, and taste. Taking the politics out of an overtly political story, the film reminds us of the human toll of ascendant xenophobia.
The film does a number of things very well, all with the utmost subtlety. It could have easily become big and melodramatic, but the filmmakers wisely chose to emphasize that these undocumented teens have to live with this anxiety every day, and so it has been incorporated into their daily routines. Sophie (Octavia Chavez-Richmond) from the Dominican Republic; Moussa (J. Mallory McCree) from Guinea; and valedictorian Alyssa (Raquel Castro), born in Peru, are set to graduate high school in the Bronx, and have had to grow up very fast. Their confidential sessions with their mentor and an adviser—a teacher, Jackie (Julianne Nicholson), and a pro bono immigration attorney Isaac (Denis O’Hare), respectively—are supportive but cautious—the adults know too well the seriousness of the plight these kids face and counsel them with a suitable taciturnity.
A feeling of impending trouble fills every frame, yet since the three are teenagers, they are silly, playful, and want to goof off with their friends. Yet there is a heaviness and a darkness to them, which builds to a crescendo as the film reaches its conclusion. The students are not necessarily close friends—all they have in common is their undocumented status—yet they end up bonding and coming to each other’s aid, since no one else really knows the consuming dread they live with every day. The special pain these teenagers face is well captured by the film’s title. They aren’t U.S. citizens, yet they have lived here all their lives, and so they aren’t really from their birth countries either.
An understated film that is all the more powerful for its subtlety and restraint, From Nowhere is an unparalleled dramatization of one of the most vital political issues of our day.