With our current climate with the world still in the thick of a pandemic, the film industry has had to shift and be flexible. Which meant festivals like TIFF, Venice, NYFF, etc have had to go to primarily drive-in and online screenings. Audiences are also wondering what the selection for the festival would be, since many films are shifting release dates. It seems like the festival circuit hasn’t skipped a beat with many films like One Night in Miami, Pieces of a Woman, and Nomadland.
Nomadland is Chloe Zhao’s second feature film which follows Fern (Frances McDormand) who is a casualty of the Great Recession causing many people her age to make tough choices. Compounded by what was going on in her life, she decides to become a Nomad and journey from place to place where she lives in her van and comes across a vast array of characters on her journey where she’s forced to confront things she isn’t exactly ready to face.
Coming off her Oscar-winning performance, which is very in your face and a loud performance that is a much more visceral performance, her performance Nomadland is the antithesis of that. It’s a much quieter and intimate performance that requires a lot of self-reflection. McDormand displays the soft-spoken qualities of Fern but from her exterior, you can determine she’s not someone to be messed with. The way she interacts with her fellow travelers is a true showcase of her warmth and nurturing qualities. As the story unravels you can tell that she’s a traveler that’s not going to her next destination, but more so running away from her previous one to avoid dealing with something she’s uncomfortable with.
Zhao does a terrific job with her follow up feature, a real sense of naturalism with the utilization of real people as travelers. Zhao and Cinematographer Joshua James Richards utilize natural light quite a bit in this film, shooting during ‘magic hour’ and the wide lenses help exhibit the nature of rural America. Zhao presents care towards this film along with the gentle score that plays throughout the film. Fern interacting with the nature around her such as the gigantic trees or the rocks in Arizona. She utilizes the close-up effectively especially as you go along the journey with Fern. In many ways it feels like a painting, the vastness that is the locations in America used in the film are quite beautiful. They use minimalism to a tee in this film, pulling it off tremendously.
Zhao does a tremendous job of showcasing the real existential questions that plague the characters, the world, and the overall story. With the story taking place around the great recession, Zhao portrays the harm that pure Capitalism had on the small town of Empire, Nevada. She shows the devastation it’s done to the town and just how barren it is. The most meaningful question out of them, what is life really about, and was the journey even worth it. In the case of the Nomads, Zhao does a terrific job by displaying the wear and tear it puts on a person when they choose this particular lifestyle. It’s not easy to find a job town to town and the need for money to keep up with the required maintenance is real.
The film doesn’t paint the lifestyle of being a Nomad as something that’s glamorous and something that is tinted by rose-coloured glasses. In fact it plays as a good balancing act between showing the comfort of being a Nomad and the drawbacks of choosing that life. In a lifestyle with pure unadulterated freedom that allows a person to travel from place to place with no restrictions, the drawbacks come when the loneliness settles in. You come to the realization just as Fern does about being with people you care about on a consistent basis with the comfort of having a hot meal every day.
Nomadland is a dark and sorrowful tale about Capitalism, life, family, the journey, and the American Dream. Zhao wears many hats throughout the film but she seamlessly pulls it off. She exhibits the beauty of humanity and how on the inside we are much more alike no matter where we come from. Zhao has a serious eye for how a lost POV in cinema showcases the true rural America with this film and The Rider. A quiet tame film that is spearheaded by a performance that lets you see that the lead exterior doesn’t exactly match what she had experienced in her life before. With the division, we see it’s a film that we need to show us in our truest form, who we are.