Nomadland (2020)

Nomadland has become the ultimate frontrunner this awards season and it’s easy to see why. Writer and director Chloe Zhao’s adaptation of the 2007 nonfiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder has swept all the major awards this awards season and is more than likely to repeat its success again at the Oscars this Sunday. The film follows Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who decides to lead a nomad life following the closure of her town and the death of her husband.

Chloe Zhao’s work on this film is absolutely stunning and impeccable. Working as the film’s co-producer director, writer and editor is a clear indicator of her passion for the project and it shows. From the flawless script to the smooth editing, watching Nomadland feels like an immersive experience as though you are going on these journeys with Fern. Zhao has received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing with the majority of these categories locked which will make her the second female winner of the Best Director award at the Oscars.

Just when you think Frances McDormand has shown all of her range, she swoops in with another tour de force performance. Coming off the back of her Oscar winning turn in Martin McDonagh’s 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDormand shines again as Fern, a nomad who is trying to find purpose in her life following the death of her husband. Adamant that she is “houseless” rather than homeless, Fern travels the States meeting a lot of new and familiar faces along the way. What McDormand always does so well is bringing an authenticity and depth to her characters in a way where she makes it look effortless yet impactful. Whether Fern is warming herself up in her van, bidding a friend farewell or reciting a Shakespeare sonnet, McDormand takes us through a whole range of emotions whilst giving an incredibly controlled and grounded performance.

It is impossible to discuss Nomadland without talking about the incredible cinematography by Joshua James Richards. Taking advantage of the nature surrounding Fern’s journeys, Richards’ work is so emotive and strikes a chord with the simple panning of a sunset behind the mountains. It may seem simple on the surface but the way it is done and the mastery and control in how the emotions in the film are conveyed make this a beautifully impressionist piece.

Another highlight for me that hasn’t been as widely discussed is the score. Composed by Ludovico Einaudi, the score feels beautifully classical while also helping to bring forward the emotions we see onscreen. Just as the cinematography allows the landscape to become personified, so does the music. The scene in which Fern goes to a large gathering during the Spring months and meets fellow nomads there is a beautiful long shot that is lifted by a gorgeously soft piece of music that perfectly captures the wonder of the lifestyle. The music never tries to dominate the events happening onscreen but simply helps to heighten and intensify those emotions.

What makes Nomadland work so well is its simplicity. Zhao shows that you don’t have to bring in all the bells and whistles to make the best picture. Nomadland has all the makings of a great modern classic in its relevance and beauty. The film’s ability to bring up a whirlwind of emotions through scenic camerawork is a mark of Zhao’s talent as a visionary. This is very much a labour of love and one that begs for revisiting time and time again thanks to its rewarding visuals and emotive performances where the landscape plays a key part. Whether you view this film as a take on capitalism, environmentalism or a character study, there is much to be gained from the Nomadland viewing experience.

What did you think of Nomadland? Let me know in the comments below!

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