September 14, 2020

SCREEN | Frances McDormand Leaves 'Nomadland' x TIFF 2020

"See you down the road."
Frances McDormand David Strathairn Chloé Zhao | Nomadland | TIFF 2020
Toronto International Film Festival
Beijing-born filmmaker Chloé Zhao has made a quietly lyrical drama about another American subculture on the margins of society. National treasure Frances McDormand (also a producer) stars as an aging widow and temporary worker from a small ghost town in northern Nevada who lives nomadically. Based on the non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century written by journalist Jessica Bruder, the film tells an expansive and richly textured story about human connections.

Structured as a road movie and set in 2011, Zhao's layered character study explores those skeptical of the American dream who resist the conventions of settling down and live as "nomads" out of vans, campers, and various makeshift mobile homes. Many real-life nomads and non-actors co-star alongside McDormand in Nomadland as the film weaves in and out of the everyday lives of various drifters and their tight-night community of RV dwellers—known in real-life as the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Full of natural scenery, it's remarkable how Zhao captures the tender beauty of the contemporary American west embodied through dessert skies, parking lots, and empty spaces. Half the film has the look and feel of a documentary in how it merely absorbs a collection of moments in time for us to process.

Frances McDormand Chloé Zhao | Nomadland | TIFF 2020
Searchlight Pictures
David Strathairn co-stars (as the only other professional actor in the film) as McDormand's sort of love interest in a subdued romance where both must silently work through their own past issues. There's technically not much to the plotless Nomadland yet the careful detail of its subject matter feels so textured, layered, and rich to the emotions of individuals thanks to Zhao's writing, direction, and editing.

Through its understated yet tragic narrative, Nomadland gives an individual sense of community and comradery despite the pervasively intentional loneliness of its (by nature) nomadic characters. How Zhao instinctively captures the melancholic experiences of everyday Americans as an outsider looking into their deeper emotions is so impressive. It's the film of the moment in what it says about solitary life and the essence of freedom.

Nomadland screened both live and virtually at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.

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