Nomadland (2020)

Baggie Nomination #5:

“Nomadland” (2020) is a creation of writer-director Chloé Zhao, who adapted Jessica Bruder’s 2017 book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century into a screenplay with Frances McDormand at the helm. It has been called a “meditation on the American west” as the breathtaking cinematography (shot by Joshua James Richards) captures the unique beauty of this part of the country and the people who enjoy it the most. Zhao already snagged the Golden Globe for Best Director, and she is nominated at the Academy Awards as well. It is well-deserved considering the thoughtfully nuanced attention to the characters she has brought to the big screen with all their humor and sadness.

At the forefront, we meet Fern (McDormand), a woman who, like many, lost everything in the Great Recession after losing her job as a result of the the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada shutting down. She decides to build out her van and live in there, moving from communities in the west from Nevada to Arizona to the Badlands National Park to South Dakota. “I don’t have a home, but I’m not homeless. There’s a difference,” she says, defending herself during an awkward run-in at a local superstore.

The film focuses on her journey, her conversations with those she meets on the road and the hardships that brought them there, but it also leaves space for Fern’s complicated feelings about her chosen lifestyle and whether or not she could ever see herself staying put. Importantly, Zhao never relies on bored tropes when she created this character. As a survivor of circumstances, Fern is tough, but not hardened or stubborn. She is open, amiable, laughs often and charming. She is full of conviction and adventure. Her love for others is apparent throughout the film in the way she listens to their stories and lets them resonate.

“Nomadland” has a similar slow pace to the other contender “Sound of Metal,” but like that film, it is never feels tiresome. Coming after the year of the pandemic, it is a welcome reflection on the simplicity of a quiet lifestyle, stillness, silence, open air and minimal material success. It is a really beautiful film that should be cherished and a must-see along with its counterparts during Awards season.

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