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Nomadland review – Chloe Zhaos triumphant ode to community | Nomadland | The Guardian

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Accepting her Oscar for Best Director last week, Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao commented, “I always found kindness in the people I met, everywhere I went in the world.” That sentiment runs through Zhao’s third feature, a soft-toned poem with western genre inflections, drawing on the rich veins of human kindness that cut across the fringes of society. It also jibes with Jessica Bruder’s 2017 landmark book, in which the author recounts true stories of the “new nomads” who hit the road after their savings were “wiped out by the Great Recession,” and for whom, “As for anyone, survival is not enough… we require hope. and there is hope on the way.”

frances mcdormand is often convincing as fern, another indomitable outsider role in which she completely immerses herself, earning her a third oscar for best actress. Recently widowed and cash-strapped, Fern decides to leave Empire, Nevada, her longtime hometown, after the factories close, and strike out on her own. As a more adventurous American relative of Maggie Smith’s Miss Shepherd in The Lady in the Truck, Fern packs her life into a vehicle and heads off into an uncertain future. But instead of being hospitably marooned on a narrow Camden driveway, McDormand’s pioneering spirit has the vast horizons of America before him, with cinematographer Joshua James Richards capturing the harsh beauty of the Midwestern states that during they have long been enshrined in the cinematographic tradition.

At first, life on the road seems dangerous and bleak, with inclement weather and cold economic realities that send ferns shivering. Little by little, however, he discovers the warmth of America’s traveling community, aided by inspiring figures like the charismatic Bob (Bob Wells), whose communal desert rendezvous imparts new life skills among those who aren’t ” homeless” but simply “homeless”.

As with featured players Linda May and Charlene Swankie, Wells is a real-life van dweller who plays close to home. Drawing on the experiences of his previous films, the songs my brothers taught me and the Rider, Zhao here blends seasoned artists like McDormand and David Strathairn with non-professionals, lending an air of documentary-style authenticity. to procedures.

since winning a golden lion in venice in september 2020, nomadland has been on an international winning streak, picking up major awards at the golden globes, the baftas and finally the oscars, where its trophies included best film . however, for a film so laden with awards, what is most striking about nomadland is the almost incidental way in which it tells its stories, eschewing raucous dramatic crises or narrative jolts for something more ambient.

zhao may have quoted “what would werner herzog do?” as his creative mantra, but there is none of the raging chaos or cosmic disharmony of his work in his much more benign portrayals of humanity. Indeed, one criticism leveled against Nomad Land is that it fails to unearth a seething heart of darkness in the Amazon warehouses (or “fulfillment centers”) where Fern and her friends find seasonal work, a criticism heightened by recent anti-union battles. from amazon.

none of which suggests that zhao’s america lacks light and shadow. instead, there is a sense that ordinary people make the best of a bad deal in often bleak and unforgiving circumstances. However, whatever hardships they face, it is the air of community and self-determination that resonates throughout Zhao’s empathic film. As I write this review, I’m listening to the Nomadland soundtrack album, on which pieces by Ludovico Einaudi and Nat King Cole sit alongside the jagged sounds of the cast’s campfire happily singing “We can’t wait to get in our vans.” again”. !” unsurprisingly, it is the last of these that plays the most resounding chord.

  • available on disney+; in theaters from May 17

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