Fern (Frances McDormand) becomes one of the “nomads“ after the death of her husband. The community lives in trailers at the margins of society leading a life somewhere between poverty and freedom.
Chloe Zhao‘s NOMADLAND won almost all of the important Oscars in 2021: Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress (Frances McDormand). After the emotional force of her outstanding film THE RIDER (2017) it was actually just a question of time when she would be getting her first Oscar. The Oscars for NOMADLAND are justified, the film is fantastic. Like in SONGS MY BROTHER TAUGHT ME and THE RIDER, which was shot in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Zhao tells a psychological story with a documentary backdrop, and the landscape shots by her regular cinematographer Joshua James Richards are similarly overwhelming. The main roles are played by professional actors, the supporting actors, however, are playing themselves.
NOMADLAND is about Fern (McDormand), who took care of her husband until he died in the former mining town and current ghost town of Empire. After the cement factory shut down, the town fell apart. Fern has lived as a nomad in a van-turned-trailer ever since. The film begins shortly before Christmas, with Fern driving to a huge Amazon warehouse to work there as a temp. Clearly Amazon has their own camping grounds for nomadic employees: the financial crisis of 2007/2008 was primarly a housing crisis for many US Americans because they lost their mortgages as well as their houses and apartments. Big RV Parks were set up along the highways. They are the US version of the German permanent camping grounds in which people in Germany permanently – and sometimes illegally – live. Fern has learned to live off of very little, and she is prudent about encountering others in a friendly but not all too warm and intimate way. It is only once she doesn‘t succeed in finding a job that she accepts the invitation of her nomad Amazon colleague to meet with Bob Wells. Bob Wells is a real nomad, like most of the people that Fern encounters on her journey. Wells is the author of a book about living in trailers and vans, has a website, and offers free youtube tutorials on the lifesyle. The “Rubber Tramp Rendezvous“ is the annual highlight of his organization “Home on Wheels Alliance.“
NOMADLAND is both a portrait of the nomadic lifestyle on the poor margins of US society and the story of the healing and grief process that Fern goes through. The fictional narratîve strand and the documentary interest in the nomadic lifestyle don‘t pair as seamlessly as they did in THE RIDER. In that film, Zhao tells the real story of a cowboy who isn‘t allowed to ride anymore following a horrific accident. The conversations that France McDormand has here with real nomads, is episodically added to the plot, but only loosely tied to it. It still has a lot of emotional (and political) power because Frances McDormand is so wonderful and because she develops chemistry with the amateur actors and seems to have a real interest in their lives. However, Zhao‘s method of immersion in minority cultures and the combination of documentary elements with a streamlined fictional narrative can‘t continue endlessly. This could turn into a shtick, which will turn the depiction of outsiders and minority cultures into a pretense of authenticity. We will see it in the epigones of Zhao‘s style in the next few years. At the moment, NOMADLAND is the cinematic highlight of a style that has dominated post-dramatic theater for several years..
Translation: Elinor Lewy
USA 2020, 108 min
Director: Chloé Zhao
Author: Chloé Zhao
DOP: Joshua James Richards
Montage: Chloé Zhao
Music: Ludovico Einaudi
Distributor: Walt Disney Company
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
- OV Original version
- OmU Original with German subtitles
- OmeU Original with English subtitles
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