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#TIFF20 Review: Nomadland (Gala Presentations)

September 13, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

As a portrait of poverty in post-recession America, and the people who were left behind by the 2008 economic crash, the film Nomadland, which was just awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, is something special. It’s a work of incredible empathy that lets us see people who are rarely seen, those with no fixed address who call the road their home.

The film follows Fern (Frances McDormand), a modern nomad who has been living out of her van since the gypsum mine in Empire, Nevada where she worked with her late husband got shut down, and the town around it ceased to exist. Now her life consists of taking menial jobs, and driving from state to state as the seasons change. When we first meet her in the film, she is working in an Amazon warehouse, and living out of her vehicle, which she gets an employee discount to park on the lot.

McDormand delivers a transfixing performance as Fern. The camera often lingers on her deeply expressive face, silently revealing the emotions that are swirling through the head of her closed off character, who starts to open up as the film goes along. Fern meets and bonds with other nomads along her journey, including a man (David Strathairn) who is also living on the road. While Strathairn and McDormand are trained actors, the film also finds Fern interacting with a cast of characters who, in a brilliant creative choice, are played by real life nomads including Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells.

This adds a sense of authenticity and realism to the film that can’t be manufactured. Shot over five months in five different states, Nomadland is masterfully directed by filmmaker Chloe Zhao, who also wrote and edited the film. The cinematography by Joshua James Richards is often stunning, with beautifully composed images of the sparse Western landscapes. The film’s music is also very moving, including some lovely piano compositions by Ludovico Einaudi.

There are echoes of Terrence Malick and Kelly Reichardt in the film’s style and visual language, which is very high praise indeed. As much as Nomadland is about the proverbial death of the American Dream, it’s also about a different way of life, and the film tells a touching story about going down the road and seeing where the journey takes you. It’s an incredibly powerful film that is filled plenty of beautifully captured little moments along the way that continue to linger long afterwards.

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Public Screenings:

Friday, September 11th – 9:15 PM at RBC Lakeside Drive-In at Ontario Place

Saturday, September 12th – 6:00 PM at Bell Digital Cinema (Online for 24 Hours)

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