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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS When Fern loses her house after the Great Recession, she packs her life into a van and hits the road.


Starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn

A more compelling blend of documentary and drama you’ll never see. Chloë Zhao’s hauntingly beautiful (or is it beautifully haunting?) account of woman who falls foul of the Great Recession drops a known actor into a world of real people. The results are stunning.

Granted, NOMADLAND is not for adrenalin junkies or indeed anyone who enjoys the comfortable certainty of a well-paced narrative arc. The deliberate, meandering aimlessness of the film is clued in the title as recently widowed Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her diminished life into a van and starts driving. “I’m not homeless,” she explains to her teenage niece, “I’m houseless”. Along the way she encounters many, many people in the same position, refugees from the failing capitalist experiment. Each has a story, no one plays victim.

Zhao takes these strands and weaves them into a broader reality in which Fern inhabits. Accordingly, the nuggets and gems of NOMADLAND are found in the edges and sidebars; people like Linda May and Carl Hughes who are determined to bring dignity and compassion to a new way of living outside the American Dream. McDormand’s rigorously unmannered performance makes Fern, her warmth, her determination and and her melancholic gravitas indistinguishable from those around her. It’s remarkable. Backed by the subtle cinematography of Joshua James Richards (GODS OWN COUNTRY) and Ludvico Einaudi’s evocative score, NOMADLAND is a wonderfully seductive experience.

The power of this wonderful film resides in the way Zhao finds poetry in moments of human experience, no matter how humble those moments are (note: defecating in a bucket is about as humble as it gets). This isn’t a story that presents a solution, there’s no transformation nor transcendence at the end of a long journey. It’s a reflection on who we are, a question about the people we want to be. It’s a marvel of empathy and retrospection that, surprising given the wrenching subject matter, is a soothing tonic in these jarring times.



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