Nomadland, Chloé Zhao’s exquisite and empathetic Oscar-tipped feature of a sixty-year-old woman who takes life in a traveling van after a mine closure wipes out her livelihood and Nevada City, is unfazed by the vagaries of the human body.
Like Fern, a widow who joins the ranks of the older American “recession refugees” who roam the country in search of seasonal work in an increasingly fragmented and tenuous working economy, Frances McDormand shivers and sneezes in the cold. cab of your truck. She watches a presentation by a “wheel farm” -er veteran at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, a gathering for these mobile elders in Arizona, about the various buckets available as van toilets; It is useful when a surprise attack of diarrhea forces her to move from bed to the bucket seat. She bathes in the majestic (stark naked, in a pristine river; alone in the Badlands lunar terrain) and endures the wildly human (as a temp worker in a trailer park, cleans up wrecked toilets clogged by travelers who know someone else ). you will be stuck with disaster).
The stretches of countryside seen in Nomadland buzz with contradictions: sprawling landscapes and crowded trucks, lonely united in the face of a cruel and unforgiving economy, resilient people shipping packages and harvesting crops, unseen but patiently observed here. The movie doesn’t feature so much a “hidden America” - if you’ve driven to some national parks or interstate tourist attractions, you’ve probably stopped at the rest stops where Fern and her new friend Linda May (playing a lightly scripted version of herself , like many of the characters in the film) work as gardeners, or eat at a restaurant like the one Fern takes temporarily on the bus, or pass by seasonally staffed farms. It’s more of an America, and in Fern, an uncompromising older woman, rarely attracting mainstream attention.
Since its premiere at last year’s Venice film festival, Nomadland has earned industry accolades as a likely Best Picture Oscar nominee (the film was initially slated for a general release in 2020, but will now open in select theaters. and on Hulu). Word of mouth is guaranteed; Watching Nomadland felt like slipping into a misty tunnel of feelings – longing, uneasiness, belonging, loss, the urge to be overwhelmed by vastness, the balm of disarming conversation – and waking up to a shower of emotions. It feels revealing, in the hazy space he has between real people and composite character, and in the freedom given to an uncompromising and undaunted woman in her 60s.
Zhao, 38, has become in the last half decade one of Hollywood’s Most Wanted Directors via an unusual route: a trio of quiet, decidedly non-commercial films set in the expansive American West starring, in whole or in part, non-commercial actors playing versions of themselves. Since his 2015 debut, Songs My Brother Taught Me, filmed on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, Zhao has perfected a cinematic style that could be described as adaptive realism, clearly narrative, but close enough to true stories. . and real lives, virtually indistinguishable from the truth. His escape, The Rider, cast Lakota cowboy Brady Jandreau as Brady Blackburn, an injured rodeo competitor weighing permanent brain damage and his livelihood on horseback, inspired by Jandreau’s own injury and starring his real-life friends and family. .
With his first two films, Zhao trained the alien perspective of his outsider (he grew up in China and came to Los Angeles late in high school in 2000) in an indigenous community in the western United States, one that Visitors are not strangers: filmmakers, journalists, hoping, albeit with good intentions, to tell a story and leave. In Nomadland, Zhao expands his wandering and porous interest in the wake of American rural life to the community of migrants on the loose drifting by the punitive wages of late capitalism. The film plays as an artistic twist on a good newspaper article that records people and places that are generally overlooked, in part because it was born from one: the 2017 book of the same name by journalist Jessica Bruder, who spent three years and 15,000 miles down the road, attending Rendezvous and work stints, like Fern, as a beet processor and Amazon warehouse clerk. (It’s worth noting that not all itinerant work has this nostalgic and cinematic appeal: Characters in the film, like the book, are mostly white, as migrant workers of color, particularly undocumented workers from Latin America , face restrictions and risks on the road.).
Zhao’s movie connects directly to Bruder’s reports; lines in the film, such as Linda May describing her consideration of suicide when, broke and aged out of the workforce, she hit the road, imitating her own quotes from Bruder’s 2014 feature film The end of retirement, which was expanded in the book. That blurring of the line of reality is perhaps what makes the film so powerful: it’s hard to access the emotions, understand the drive toward destruction out of insignificance, or the warm, restless dynamics of a camp, without immersion. But a completely fictional Hollywood treatment, the kind that evens out regional distinctions into “red state” or “rural America,” that amplifies and stretches trauma for character motivation, that almost never centers on an independent woman over 40. , which privileges propellant narration over silent observance: it would deprive the film version of its rich lived experience. You could imagine a much stronger kinetic image, which would feel much flatter to her.
Nomadland looks at an America not so much forgotten as it is ignored, or never seen in the first place. The film redirects attention to where the cinematographic gaze is usually fleeting, and often made by people accustomed to looking after service work, alternative life situations, the elderly, women in general and, in particular, women Older single women with no interest in stagnation, cordiality, or disappearance. For Fern, there is no redemptive bow or trivial revelation, just as her city and her old memories cannot be restored. Instead, he dances on a cliff, wanders through postcard sunsets, keeps moving, saves himself. She is dwarfed by the Arizona desert and the larger forces at play in her uprooting, but her only story, one among the many real ones seen by Nomadland, looms large, if we just choose to listen.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism