JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Nomadland (Director: Chloé Zhao) - May 1, 2021


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107 min.

The empty, secret side of life

In December, after my first viewing of Nomadland, I reviewed my few notes and found that I had nothing to say. After unexpectedly winning a raft of awards (including Best Picture)—astonishing to me, I decided a second helping was in order to see just what so many others saw that I hadn’t.

For sure, the Best Director (Chloé Zhao) and Best Actress (Frances McDormand—also a producer) awards were merited. But the category—which doesn’t exist, yet—that I would have nominated the film as a whole for, would be Most Thoughtful Picture.

We have and will continue to suffer losses in our lives (people, work, friends, lovers…), through all manner of calamities (recessions, pandemics, wars…). But few amongst us move on by customizing, then loading up a van to wander the planet, work menial jobs (how ironic Amazon fulfillment centres come into play, even as many of them have turned out to be incubators for COVID-19), and find some semblance of self.

And so, Fern—McDormand—the poor wandering one (I feel a Gilbert & Sullivan song coming on), guides all viewers in her quest for life after emptiness (death of husband, shuttering of their town of memories and employment).

Lots of interesting acquaintances appear along the journey (none truly lasting, whether by circumstance or Fern’s wanderlust).

For me, by this journey’s end, the overriding feeling of hollowness leaves a void rather than a one of empathy and understanding.

Coincidentally released in our pandemic year (the artistic trust had no way of predicting that as the project was developed then given the green light), its wide acceptance and adoration is more a reflection of these uncertain times than an affirmation of overall excellence in filmmaking.

Definitely a highlight is the original score from Ludovico Einaudi, particularly the Chopinesque piano interventions, always at one with the images. JWR

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Director - Chloé Zhao
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