Cinema Review: Nomadland [NYFF 2020] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, January 27th, 2023  


Studio: Searchlight Studios
Directed by Chloe Zhao

Sep 28, 2020 Web Exclusive
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The winner of the Venice International Film Festival’s Golden Lion and the Toronto International Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is a revelation. After the once-booming mining factory town of Empire, Nevada is shut down, Fern (Frances McDormand) has nowhere to go. She moves from one small-time job to another at places like Amazon and an RV camp, while living in the back of her white van. Upon advice from her co-worker and the guidance of a nomadic guru, houseless 60-something year old Fern decides to set out for the open road in her van, exploring the natural beauty of the American West, meeting friends, acquaintances, and strangers along the way.

Nomadland is a meditative film. Zhao is a director who values perspective over narrative. This is most definitely the case in Nomadland. Zhao’s adapted script and camerawork are more focused on the character’s thoughts rather than her actions. This helps viewers connect with a character who may be nothing like them. You don’t follow Fern on her journey, you travel with her. By using strategic close-up shots and minimal conversation, the film is muted and nuanced at the same time.

Frances McDormand won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but this is the pinnacle performance of her career. Her acting in the film’s first half, focused on Fern beginning her journey through the American countryside, is commendable and impressive. It is in the second half where McDormand’s screen presence becomes unforgettable. Centered around the character fighting her past, McDormand conveys Fern’s complex emotions in a simple yet powerful way, giving her character a strong, human edge.

Nomadland is a film about those left behind by a country’s rapid changes, also commenting on how the downfall of a country’s or corporation’s systems can affect its citizens and workers. Through landscapes of desolation and layered character studies of the lives of American nomads, Zhao creates a new, fluid definition of the “American Dream,” and who can attain it. Nomadland is a wonderful, deeply sympathetic film – a 2020 standout.


Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10


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