Director: Chloe Zhao
Starring: Frances McDormand
Nomadland is the best documentary you will ever see, partly because it isn’t a documentary, which I guess isn’t really fair to real documentaries; does that make sense? It’s technically a drama and Frances McDormand is the main character, but in most ways that count it’s not and she isn’t; this is a film about the people it exhibits, the lifestyle it introduces us to, and the wind of the open road, which is essentially a breath of fresh air that you have to be a little damaged, a little cracked, in order to let seep in. Whatever you want to call it, Nomadland is special, and might just be the film of the year.
Since her husband died, the mine he worked at closed, and the town the mine supported boarded up, even eliminating its zip code, Fern has struggled to find where she belongs. She has people who care about her: a sister who’s well off, friends who have been with her for years, friends she’s just met but has a strong connection with. But in so many ways she’s all alone, and the more lonely she gets the more she turns inward, until her day-to-day existence is all that matters. Fern moves into her van and travels the country as a migrant worker, or, perhaps more accurately, a modern nomad, cruising the road, seeing the country, knowing its people, and searching for something that might not be out there.
This movie is so very beautiful, like a cross-country trip that you go on for free, like a life experience where someone else does all the work for you. It’s a documentary in the sense that these are real people and this is their real lifestyle, McDormund is just there to listen. She’s not even the storyteller, that’s Zhao, and she does a tremendous job, mostly by letting the nomads and their travels speak for themselves. It’s honest, it’s dirty, it’s lovely, it’s sad; this is a chance to see something and to understand something that you may not have even imagined before. And wow is it gorgeous; the cinematography, the landscape, the mood, the music. There are reasons to watch coming out the ears; it’s almost like your mind becomes unstopped just by volunteering to sit and learn, to watch and see. If this isn’t the best film of the year it’s pretty damned close, a physical happening that feels stronger than mere cinema, and lasts longer than simple story.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆