Following its premiere at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, drama film Nomadland – based on Jessica Bruder’s book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century – is distributed by Searchlight Pictures. In 2011, the US Gypsum plant in Nevada shuts down and widow Fern (Frances McDormand) loses her long-term job. After selling many possessions, Fern buys a van to live in and starts travelling the country to find work. Adopting the nomad lifestyle, Fern’s life is touched and her perspective on life changed by the fellow nomads she meets as she travels from place-to-place.
- Chloé Zhao’s direction is absolutely masterful, her vision being consistently clear as she gives the film a naturalistic pacing (even, the slower, more reflective scenes), with every shot, every cut (she also served as editor!) and every little thing happening in the frame feeling meticulously planned and directed with true precision, showing real nuance and a genuine love for both her craft and social realist cinema alike.
- A fantastic screenplay by Chloé Zhao (my word, is there anything that this woman cannot do!?!), which provides a very honest and informative look at the nomad lifestyle – the many pros and joys it brings, as well as some wholly understandable challenges (particularly for someone like Fern who is doing it for the first time). It also provides a beautiful reflection on how travels can be life-changing, on how experiencing nature can change perspectives on the world, but most of all on how people can touch and impact our lives, even if our time with that person is somewhat brief and part of everyday life.
- Chloé Zhao once again shows her wonderful commitment to authenticity by hiring many a real-life nomad with no acting training or experience to play fictionalised versions of themselves, their musings and attitudes to the nomad lifestyle therefore having a naturalistic quality that may have lacked otherwise, as does the overall vision and depiction of the lifestyle on screen. And actually, their performances are genuinely naturalistic and highly engaging – another example of how well the social realism tradition of hiring non-actors has a rich history of success.
- A beautiful central performance from Frances McDormand. While the delivery of her dialogue is wonderfully replete in nuance and subtlety that conveys Fern’s range of emotions as she goes on this unique journey, that is nothing compared to the beautiful subtlety of her facial expressions, in which we see her emotions, but also how her understanding and perspective of things is being challenged and even changed as she processes what she is experiencing in this life-changing new journey.
- Stunning cinematography by Joshua James Richards, who captures the sense of freedom and minimalism of the nomad lifestyle, the sense of adventure of being on the road and (through close-ups) the emotional arc of Fern going through her life-changing new journey. Furthermore, he takes some truly, truly beautiful shots of the natural world, the beautiful environments which it is so easy to take for granted, to fail to appreciate as we get swept up in the business of life, but come to remember just how wonderful it is when we take the time out to relax and experience it.
- A beautiful score by Ludovico Einaudi, the gentle, melancholic tones of which are a perfect accompaniment to a film such as this, and really aid the sense that this is a reflective film, and helps make this filmic experience a truly immersive piece of art.
- I would just love for this film to be a few minutes longer, so some of those deep and meaningful conversations could have even more weight and gravitas given to them, and so we have more time for us to ponder and reflect on these moments.