Nomadland (Chloé Zhao Ting, 2020) Frances McDormand

This is a type of film for which there may be no simple name. It is a fictionalised documentary—as are all three of the features directed by Zhao Ting. All (except one) of the people shown in this film, as in the others, are real people, most going under their real names. There is a story, but it is only there because there has to be one, as E.M. Forster pointed out, sadly.

This is the only one of Zhao's three features with a professional actor in it. Frances McDormand is in every scene, and is wonderful.

blurb: After losing everything in the Great Recession, a woman embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.

Wikipedia: Nomadland is a 2020 American drama film directed by Chloé Zhao, who also wrote, edited, and produced. The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, and stars Frances McDormand as a woman who leaves her small town to travel around the American West. It also features David Strathairn, as well as real-life nomads Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Wells.
The film had its world premiere on September 11, 2020 at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion. It also won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, making it the first film ever to win the top prize at both Venice and Toronto. It began a one-week virtual release on December 4, 2020, and is scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on February 19, 2021, by Searchlight Pictures. The film won widespread praise for Zhao's screenplay and direction, as well as McDormand's performance.

Brian Tallerico: Fern doesn’t think she needs to be redeemed or saved, and Zhao doesn’t push buttons in an attempt to make us feel sorry for her either, while also somehow never underestimating the loneliness and sadness of her situation. The result is a film that earns its emotions, which come from genuine, honest empathy more than anything else. ... It’s honestly hard to figure out how Zhao has made a film that’s this beautiful in its compositions and somehow still feels like it has dirt under its fingernails. Rogert Ebert.

Chris Barsanti: Using a minimal and improvised-feeling screenplay that emphasizes interaction and happenstance over story, Zhao places Fern and the gorgeous landscapes she travels through at the forefront of her film. There are times when Joshua James Richards’s sweeping cinematography and Ludovico Einaudi’s gently emotive music point to a far more romantic vision than that suggested by Fern’s more hard-bitten attitude. But by juxtaposing beautiful vistas filled with promise, a rotted social safety net, and the scrappy itinerant workers navigating the space in between, Zhao generates a gradually swelling tension underneath her film’s somewhat placid surface. In the end, whether Fern roams the desert or returns to housed life, the unfulfilled promise of America will keep pushing her back to the horizon. Slant Mag.

References and Links

Flanagan, Caitlin 2021, 'The anti-consumption weirdos of Nomadland', Atlantic.

Forster, E. M. 1927, Aspects of the Novel, Edward Arnold, London, p. 41: "Yes—oh, dear, yes—the novel [/film] tells a story. That is the fundamental aspect without which it could not exist. That is the highest factor common to all novels, and I wish that it was not so, that it could be something different—melody, or perception of the truth, not this low atavistic form."

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Garry Gillard | New: 30 December, 2020 | Now: 9 May, 2021