Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, a BAFTA Best Film winner and currently the Academy Award front-runner, is arriving just as UK cinemas are preparing to re-open. On the 17th May cinemas across the country will be screening the title with the hopes of enticing audiences back to the big screen experience. As with so many wonderful cinematic releases over the last year, Nomadland will be arriving on demand first. It’s set to premiere on Disney+ Star from 30th April. I was lucky enough to be invited to the film’s UK online gala and had the pleasure of seeing Nomadland early, in my living room. It’s a wonderful piece of work, and one I wish I could have seen in the darkness of my favourite cinema in the company of other (socially distanced) film lovers. I urge you to wait until 17th May to see it in the cinema, if you can.
Nomadland stars the always exquisite Frances McDormand as Fern, a lone traveller, who journeys across the USA, living out of her van, taking up temporary work, driven by a determination to remain free from the chains of capitalist modern America. It’s a window into a very particular type of American struggle, experienced by many more since The Great Recession of 2008. As with her previous films (including the sublime The Rider), Zhao uses non-professional actors to populate the film. McDormand is surrounded by real-life modern day nomads in many scenes, particularly those within the community gatherings that take place in the southern deserts. We journey with Fern from icy gas stations to idyllic sun kissed wildernesses, witnessing many a sunset and sunrise along the way. From the cold, corporate Amazon warehouses, to the old-fashioned charm of a beet farm, we watch Fern graft, taking on any role from cleaner to dishwasher. Nothing ever seems below her, despite brief mentions of her past career as a substitute teacher and her personal love and knowledge of poetry. Fern is seemingly willing to do what it takes to remain ‘free’, even when that means sh*tting in a bucket and living on instant chicken noodles. With its gorgeous landscape shots, its roots in the realism and a striking central performance from arguably the best in the business, Nomadland has lead Zhao to become the first woman of colour ‘Best Director’ nominee at the Oscars, for this her third feature.
Fern’s story is one of loss and grief, which results in a reluctance to move forward or grow closer to others. Her determinism to embrace the nomad life has us worrying about her health, particularly in a country where medical care comes with an upfront price tag. Fern’s life doesn’t seem sustainable and yet there are others around her much older equally committed to the cause. A fellow traveller (Dave) begins to open Fern’s eyes to other options, presenting her with the ideas of a more permanent companionship, something Fern instinctively shuts off from. Nomadland meanders gracefully from location to location, sprinkled with humour and humanity throughout. Its use of non-professionals reminded me of the manipulated documentary Bloody Noses, Empty Pockets (2020), in which real-life drunkards and down-and-outs are given material to work with and ultimately play an extension of themselves. This has become one of the clear traits of Zhao’s auteur-ship and something she’s evidently mastered. Nomadland will have you pining to take a road-trip across rural America whilst simultaneously feeling grateful for your bed and toilet. It makes for perfect lockdown viewing whilst we all continue to fantasise about the idea of travelling abroad and exploring new places. It’s likely to walk away with the Academy Award for Best Picture at the end of the month but is well worth the wait to see it in the cinema from 17th May. Of course, that won’t be possible for everyone, but if you can, and feel safe to, I highly recommend witnessing Nomadland in all its beauty on the biggest screen in town.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.