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Nomadland – movie review

Director: Chloé Zhao | 
Released: 2020 (USA) | 

Rating 4.0 stars
After her husband dies in the rural town of Empire in Nevada, Fernplayed by the incomparable Francis McDormandsets off on the road in her van which serves as her mobile home.
The gypsum plant the couple worked in has shut down in the economic downturn and the town is now depopulated and has all but disappeared.
As a modern day nomad, Fern seeks temporary employment, shelter and social support of other similar nomads. Most of them are real characters playing themselves.
When advised by an employment placement officer to consider retirement, she says she can’t survive on the benefits and must work.
So from seasonal warehouse employee at Amazon to a kitchen help in a diner and caravan park camp host to beet harvester she takes on various short term jobs as she travels the land living out of her van.
Minus the security of a home and with minimal possessions she nevertheless forms transient yet deep friendships. Most notable of these connections she makes are Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells (all played by themselves) and David (David Strathairn). The latter offers her long term companionship and a permanent home with his son. But she declines in favour of continuing her nomadic life alone.
Fern’s peripatetic life eventually takes her back to Empire to reminisce her simple but treasured life with her husband there.
This is a highly affecting movie as we meet, almost documentary-style and through the eyes of Fern, all these people with their stories of displacement, regret and adventure as they spend their time exploring the vast landscapes of the American West.
The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder and directed by Chloe Zhao. And it somehow captures the essence of what has been a challenging year, even through it has nothing to do with the pandemic.
The haunting soundtrack by Ludovico Einaudi (mostly taken from his Seven Days Walking albums) adds to a sense of melancholy and the wonderment of wandering the land in an aimless yet meaningful way.
Although sad and depressing, the film nevertheless is affirming in the way it conveys much kindness, compassion and humanity through the characters we encounter.
As we see Fern brew a flask of coffee on New Year’s Day to offer to strangers in the caravan park, we can’t help feeling that this could be the perfect movie to transition our way from a catastrophic 2020 to a more hopeful and kinder 2021.