Nomadland is a 2020 film written and directed by Chloé Zhao and based on the book written by Jessica Bruder. The absolute protagonist of the film is Frances McDormand in a film in which there are only two professional actors: Frances McDomand and David Strathairn, while the rest of the cast simply play themselves. The film is a tribute to all Americans who have decided to live in mobile homes, campers and caravans, whatever the reasons behind this choice.
I saw it at the cinema as soon as the cinemas of this country reopened, at the beginning of April 2021, and it was a beautiful experience. The two hours of duration felt like ten minutes, I was completely mesmerized by the movie’s simplicity and depth absolutely rhetoric-free.
The plot is as follows. Fern (Frances McDormand) lives in the van she has customized by dedicating many hours and the few financial means she has thanks to seasonal jobs around the United States, including working in an Amazon warehouse during the Christmas period. We soon discover that before living as a nomad she lived in Empire, Nevada, a small mining company town that was closed down during the Great Recession, it simply ceased to exist overnight. In the movie, we spend a year with Fern and with all the interesting people she meets who live as she does, albeit for different reasons. Bob Wells stands out among all, a youtuber who has built a community of people who live as nomads and whom he helps with advice on how to live with dignity even with little money.
With the simplicity of a hand-held camera following Fern everywhere, both in her happy moments (for example in her relationship with Dave, David Strathairn) and in her worse ones (in the cold of the Northern states in winter, to name one), Nomadland manages to be very profound and to deal with many interesting themes.
Although it’s only revealed at the very end, the film is about how to cope with grief. There are at least two great dialogues about this, one between Fern and Bob, and one in which Fern finally opens up and reveals what led her to make the life choice of going nomad. At the same time, Zhao isn’t afraid to comment on the madness of an economy that led tens of thousands of families to ruin with a debt-based system, and even entire towns to disappear from the maps. And what about the extreme inequality of a country where the only people who want to live as nomads are those who cannot afford to buy vehicles in which to do it comfortably (there’s a splendid scene in which Fern and her friends visit a luxury RV exhibition).
And what about Swankie, looking for a quiet way to say goodbye to this world and remembering all the positive things she experienced up to that point? More in general, it’s nice how many of the protagonists of the film seek to be closer to nature, with a simpler life than the one imposed on us by the crazy rhythm of our society.
The character of Dave is also interesting. He ran away from his family because he believes himself unable to have good relationships with his son and his grandson, but eventually he manages to change and reunite with his loved ones (Dave’s son is played by the actor’s son). On the other hand, Fern seems unable to do the same.
In short, Nomadland is truly a gem not to be missed, and of course I’m not the first to notice it (among other things, it won the Golden Lion in Venice). It’s the exact definition of an independent film, it makes up for the lack of budget with a very interesting script full of really deep dialogue and with a great cast supporting the immense Frances McDormand (who actually lived four months as a nomad while shooting the film). All the non-professional actors do a great job.
If you want to see a side of the United States rarely shown on the big screen and absolutely free of any rhetoric, Nomadland is the movie for you. It will make you think, it will entertain you, it will make you laugh and it will make you cry, and you won’t forget it easily. Ciao!
PS: I found out with this film that Searchlight is no longer Fox-owned. Now, it’s Disney, of course, like everything else in the world.
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