Nomadland – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Gay DeForest
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Written by Chloé Zhao
Length: 108mins

Caught halfway between some of America’s most beautiful landscapes and the oppressive trappings of the modern workplace, Chloé Zhao’s ‘Nomadland’ reflects on what is truly important in our lives, and seeks to find an answer for how we can put these things first. For Fern (McDormand), a woman in her sixties who lost a great amount to the recent recession, the answer lies in her van. Addicted to the freedom which her new lifestyle as a Nomad provides, she seeks to find a balance between the necessary nature of employment, her relationship with her own family, and the opportunity to escape it all. 

Employing real Nomads to act in the film, Zhao’s work feels as natural as ever. ‘Nomadland’ is a work of fiction, and yet you can feel the sincerity and honesty that each character brings to the screen, which, combined with an incredible performance from Frances McDormand, creates a story you can’t help but believe in. Despite many of the places Fern travels between being extremely far apart, a lot of the characters cross paths multiple times, reiterating this idea that they’re meant to be a part of one another’s lives, and that the life of a Nomad is not as isolating or lonely as audiences may at first believe.

If there’s one thing that Chloé Zhao is known for, it’s her ability to capture the Earth at its most beautiful. ‘Nomadland’ is defined by its breathtaking skylines and hubristic landscapes, creating a sense of both importance and inconsequentiality in the characters’ lives. Compared to the beauty of these natural occurrences, the actions of Fern and those in her life are entirely unimportant, and yet this is what drives them to live their life in whichever way they choose. As a result, the presence of the large corporations which Fern has to work for, such as Amazon, seem powerless in comparison. Their status as an international conglomerate is suddenly reduced when compared to the care which the film provides for such expansive natural features, and emphasises the idea that no one should have to work under inhumane conditions just to live. Although not explicit in it’s beliefs, ‘Nomadland’ is very clearly a film which disagrees with the power large businesses are provided in the modern day, and utilises visual imagery to brilliantly convey such an ethos.

Arguably one of the greatest actresses working today, Frances McDormand’s performance as Fern is both crackling with energy and defined by a weariness for the state of the world she’s found herself in. Her only freedom is in the escape from everything which modern society stands for, and her expression clearly reflects this whenever she’s able to get away for a little while longer. The patience the camera is provided when slowly following Fern through the Nomad’s camp is significantly longer than any shots found in urbanised areas, and as a result, the combination of performance and cinematography works brilliantly to emphasise the feeling of escape experienced by the lead character, and the audience too.

All in all, ‘Nomadland’ is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and important films released so far this year. As soon as cinemas open I look forward to watching it on the big screen, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I definitely recommend getting yourself a ticket booked. Chloé Zhao has already achieved more than any filmmaker could dream of, and still with a wide array of projects in the near future, I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring for her.

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