Nomadland is easily one of my favourite films of last year. I’ve had the privilege of seeing the film twice now, the first at the virtual London Film Festival and the second time since it is now streaming on US service Hulu.
The film is gorgeous, taking place in various locations across America. Frances McDormand’s character Fern decides to take her life back into her own hands. After living in a town that no longer exists due to the sheetrock industry it is based around collapsing. She sets off to live a very simple life in the back of a van travelling around the US looking for work, taking in sights, meeting people along the way. It is the ultimate road movie. The Wikipedia page describes the film as a ‘Neo-Western’, which feels fitting in many ways. Fern, the lone wanderer, travels the US in her trusty van, searching for adventure, people and a great life.
The people she meets are what really makes up a lot of the story, giving us snapshots into the different reasons people would take up this lifestyle. The film is shot and directed with such realism that moments feel like a documentary rather than a fictional film, with McDormand being a vessel for the audience to learn and observe these real-life Van-dwellers brought in after being featured in the book this film is based on. These real-life people playing themselves add a heart to this movie in a way that feels genuine and unlike anything you really see in films like this.
McDormand’s performance is sympathetic, quirky and nuanced in ways that I feel are much better than her turn in previous Oscar hit ‘Three Billboards’. The character’s journey around the united states, her interactions with others and the reasoning behind her Nomad life are equal parts heart-breaking as it is intriguing to watch play out. I feel that she is a better pick for the best actress award than any of the other films that I have seen in the awards chatter and who I would put money on in the case of a bet.
The situation this film is being released in is disappointing. The film is almost perfect to be seen on a big screen with an immersive sound system. I think this is why I was much more of a fan of the film a second time around. It is a film that is punctuated with shots of vistas, landscapes with the wind subtly whistling by at one moment. In another, we are in the depths of a campfire conversation that is handheld and immersive.
It all comes down to the fact that the way the film is shot and the sound design is crafted plays very well into that kind of experience. Thankfully, I am privileged enough to have a home cinema set-up to watch the film in really helped pull me into the film. So, my rewatch really felt superior, more so than a low-quality screener I had previously watched the movie on.
Director Chloe Zhao has knocked this out of the park. She has made one of the best films of 2020 by a longshot. This film deserves every accolade it has coming its way, whether for technical categories it should be excelling in or the artistic merit of direction and acting that this film has spades of.
Nomadland is currently streaming on Hulu in the United States. A UK release date is still to be decided.