Today i’m going to be reviewing Nomadland. As a film set in the American west, i expected it to have many slow meditative shots with little narrative motivation. But Nomadland is so much more than just a desolate landscape. So hold your can opener and hear me out.
Nomadland (2020) Film Review And My Opinion
Nomadland follows the character of fern. A woman who embraces a life on the road as a nomad. This happens after the rural Nevadan town that she spent most of her life in. Essentially stops existing after the mining company that it was built around closes.
This film recently received the two highest accolades at the golden globes. Best drama film and best director and for good reason. It absolutely nails the mixture between being a fictional and true story. In my reviews of two of the other nominees the trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank.
I expressed how disappointed i was to have enjoyed both films but later found out how much of the true story was skewed in order to make a more exciting drama. Nomadland on the other hand builds on the truth organically and creates a meaningful story without needing to skew the truth.
I think this is testament to director Chloe Zhao treating her source material a book of the same name by Jessica Bruder with respect. She even manages to incorporate real-life nomads and their stories within the fictional story of fern.
The most important of these are Linda Mae Swanky and Bob Wells who fern meets on her travels and discovers their motivations for becoming nomads. The scenes in which they tell their stories are very emotional. These are not actors recollecting their lines but real people remembering their past including traumatic memories alongside the joyful ones.
At first Bob Wells’s offbeat desert seminar felt silly. It reminded me of life coaches that try guilt-tripping you into changing. As the story progressed i became invested in what bob had to say. At the heart of it all i think he just wants to remind people that there is always an opportunity to change your life that you don’t need to feel trapped with no way out. That doesn’t mean you’ll become a perfect person just a happier one.
I think this is a message that is easier to absorb when it comes from a happily imperfect person like bob. The fact that this film primarily centers on people who are at or past retirement age is also really important as these are people who are normally ignored by society and the film industry.
It’s not an age range that is typically associated with adventure or change. So Nomadland does a great job in diversifying the faces we are seeing on screen and representing them better. This is especially true when comparing this film to other films based on the road such as the Motorcycle Diaries, Thelma and Louise and Easy Rider.
What these films have in common is that they center on young at most nearing middle-aged characters who are taking a trip to escape. These are usually short-term trips that although mark a turning point in these characters lives. They are not just their everyday lives period furthermore fern’s story though fictional is also rooted in real experiences.
From the instigating event that happened to the actual town of empire to the need to work short-term jobs such as those in amazon warehouses. Frances Mcdormand is a fantastic actress and she has a crucial role to play here not just in being her character but in making the non-actors feel comfortable.
She responds to their beats and their tone of voice. She knows when to cut in when fans impatience comes through and when to let the stories flow. Director Chloe Zhao who also edited the film had a responsibility infusing the real and fictional aspects of the story and deciding when to leave in a stutter or mistake in the dialogue.
This made the conversations feel real when people got distracted or uncomfortable. This meant that the community felt like a real family as was undoubtedly the intent. This is Zhao’s third feature film and all three have been set in the American west i look forward to finding and watching the other two films. In order to see how her exploration of the subject has developed over time recently.
She directed the eternals a marvel film that is currently in post-production and i am curious to see how much of her style comes through in such a big budget setting. Back to nomad land where the praise keeps coming. The colorful characters are 100% supported by the cinematography and sound design.
It’s easy to film a beautiful landscape but less easy to make the character feel part of it. The expansive landscape shots were all motivated by the action whether, that be that fern is driving through them or that a character looks towards the sky.
There is one particular scene where fern has escaped her tour group and is exploring the Bad Lands of South Dakota by herself running and jumping through the rocky hills. Zhao mentions that Mcdormand’s body language reminded her of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin in that there’s a playfulness and excitement in each step.
It’s one of those scenes where the cinematography allows Mcdormand the space to explore and guide the camera through the landscape. It is also a scene that has one of my favorite lines in the film. Fern’s friend slash love interest asks her find anything interesting to which she replies rocks.
I think this perfectly summarizes the film for me. Rocks and fern’s changing relationship with them are an important motif within the film and one that really resonated with me. At one point fern works for a guy who sells rocks. We see her organizing them and struggling to stack them.
A young nomadic couple try to sell their jewellery that they have made with rocks to the shop owner. Behind the cashier area we see the multitudes of different rocks that he has for sale whether, that be semi-precious ones that have been made into jewellery or big ones that have been carved into statues.
There’s this idea of humans coming along and wanting to transform the landscape into something. Indeed the mining company that fern and her husband used to work for were doing exactly that. Over the course of the film fern learns how to become a unique part of the landscape like a rock herself.
With regards to the sound design and soundtrack i loved how much of fern’s journey was uninterrupted. There was a lot of silence with just the noise of whatever task she was doing. When the soundtrack came in the violin and piano danced across one another, the connection they had with the action became increasingly moving. Coming to its climax near the end of the film.
There is really nothing i disliked about this film. It is well paced and well written with a tone that feels unique to the genre. It strikes a good balance between educating the audience about the nomadic life and exploring fern’s story which comes full circle at the end with a very simple act. This showed that life-changing actions need not be big.
Unfortunately i did not watch this film before making my top 10 films of 2020. Nomadland would undoubtedly take a spot and a high one at that. Overall Nomadland toes the line between being a drama and documentary with considered ease. It makes use of the cinematic tools at its disposal to serve the story of the real people being shown which are in turn supported by the wonderful performance by Frances Mcdormand.
It is a film that makes you rethink what success means to you and whether there are better ways to spend your time.