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‘Nomadland’ is a sincere look into underrepresented America | NYFF 2020

‘Nomadland’ is a sincere look into underrepresented America | NYFF 2020

‘Nomadland’ is a sincere look into underrepresented America | NYFF 2020
September 24
12:00 2020

“I think Fern is part of an American tradition.”

“Nomadland” follows Fern, a proclaimed modern-day nomad portrayed by Frances McDormand, as she tries to navigate life through different areas and jobs in the vast expanse of Depression-style America after she loses everything in the Great Recession.

Before “Nomadland” does anything more, it serves as a respectful and tender look into the lives of the disenfranchised, underprivileged and otherwise forgotten individuals who often go underrepresented in media. It’s important to tell stories about people like this so their stories aren’t forgotten or ignored, whether that may be intentional or not. They deserve to have their stories shared and director Chloé Zhao captures this like lightning in a bottle. It never devolves into being overly depressing to the point of being ‘sadness porn’ but it instead takes it’s time examining the layers to these nomads and why they are in the position they are.

I’ve known a number of people exactly like Fern who live by the skin of their teeth, doing anything and everything they can to get by in a world that doesn’t seem to care enough about them. Despite that, though, they persist in doing whatever they can to simply live. These are some of the harsh realities of America even if you aren’t willing to admit it, and Zhao is able to capture this very sentiment so well. She has a very specific tenderness approaching this subject which is very much needed for a film like this. Zhao is one of the most unique directors currently working today who deserves all the success coming her way. She has made quite an impact already as she is set to direct “The Eternals” for Marvel next year, but I cannot help but stop now and bask in her more personal indie style of filmmaking that encapsulates “Nomadland” so fervently. 

McDormand is an actress that transcends generations with her talent, so it is no wonder she is utterly incredible in her portrayal as Fern here. Her performance is a raw, entirely humanistic portrait of a woman seemingly incapable of escaping the harsh systems against her, but one who continues to try in the most American way possible: by never giving up. McDormand imbues such strong personality and sensitivity whilst simultaneously showing the hard exterior her character must have to be able to survive in a situation as hers, so it is no wonder McDormand is already a strong contender for Best Lead Actress at next year’s Academy Awards.

“Nomadland” is told in almost non-linear style as we witness Fern go from place to place in new American locations at a vast array of different jobs. We live through Fern as we witness her struggles and the trials she goes through simply to live, and Zhao and McDormand pump so much compassion and comfort into these moments it’s virtually impossible to not feel for everything Fern goes through. The technical aspects of the film shine as bright as its leading women as well. The cinematography and gorgeous landscape shots of rural America basked in the bright orange, early morning sunlight ascend in full picturesque view to signify another new day for Fern simply living and trying as only she can do. The score by Ludovico Einaudi should be a shoo-in for Best Original Score as well for its stunning, calmly beautiful tune that only echoes the exact nature of the film. 

“Nomadland” might be a bit too slowly paced for some, but it is nevertheless a stunning, sincere look into an underrepresented subset of people who deserve to have their way of life examined on the big screen just as anyone else. McDormand and Zhao have delivered a crystal clear, bona fide American classic.

Final rating: 4.25/5

This film was screened virtually as part of the 58th annual New York Film Festival by the reviewer.

“Nomadland” will be released into U.S. theaters on December 4th, 2020  

Featured image: Courtesy Searchlight Pictures

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Spencer Kain

Spencer Kain

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