Nomadland (2020)

This Venice Golden Lion winner is an affecting film of elemental beauty, with a performance from Frances McDormand that is as natural as its cinematography, about folks living in vans in the American West. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,128

Dir. Chloe Zhao
2020 | USA | Drama | 107 mins | 2.39:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for some full nudity

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May
Plot: 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.
Awards: Won Golden Lion (Venice); Won People’s Choice Award (Toronto); Won 3 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actress; Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Human Connection
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No


One of the buzziest films of 2020, Nomadland comes with a high reputation, winning the Venice Golden Lion, and is not just on track to nab major Oscar nominations, but a strong frontrunner in the Best Picture and Director race. 

Chloe Zhao, who’s helming Marvel’s Eternals (2021) next, has been one of American indie cinema’s emerging voices in the last few years with films such as Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) and The Rider (2017).  With Nomadland, she solidifies her status as a precocious talent to continue following. 

With Frances McDormand headlining the film as Fern, a woman who like many folks in the area that have either lost their house or can’t afford one, and thus have to live ‘on the road’ in vans, we are treated to a natural performance that has an undercurrent of melancholy, a far cry from her fiery Oscar-winning turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). 

“One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye.”

In fact, the entire film, with its natural cinematography covering generously the vast landscapes of the American West, feels like an elegy for the people who have been left out and have to survive on the fringes of society. 

But Nomadland is not a sad film, just an affecting one and a work of quiet resolve as Zhao depicts Fern and a host of other characters that she encounters with grace and compassion. 

Many of these ‘meetings’ leave some sort of impression, but fleeting enough to be considered ‘partings’. This also very much characterises our lives—we meet someone and enjoy the company or conversation, but we may never see him or her physically again, even if he or she is, as a character says, “just down the road”, or for us, just a text message away. 

Grade: A-


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