• The third film of Chloé Zhao. Nomadland is a work that is both enhanced by 2017’s The Rider and makes The Rider a stronger film as part of a larger vision from Zhao.
  • Starts grounded in realism with titles about the zip code the town of Empire being eliminated- the former home of Frances McDormand’s Fern. Fern now lives in her van, going from state to state working.
  • Zhao is largely a realist. The Rider had all non-professional actors. Here only McDormand and veteran David Strathaim are professionals—they are the only two actors not playing versions of themselves. And both of them play their roles in a stripped down, minimal way. I think of say De Sica making the brilliant choice not to use someone like Cary Grant for Bicycle Thieves —and how Cuaron went with Yalitza Aparicio for Roma. I think this works with McDormand in Nomadland– this is a triumph for her (along with Zhao). McDormand’s weathered face and natural style are the canvas here. In one scene fern’s sister describes her as “braver and more honest than everybody else” and who better to play that than McDormand?
  • Further grounding the film in realism are the scenes detailing the routines—several times Zhao chooses to show Fern going to the bathroom, then eating, working, doing the laundry

the blend of non-professional and professional (McDormand and Strathairn) actors is a risk– but one that works here for Zhao. Herzog did it often– Bresson, Pasolini, De Sica.

  • The use of non-professionals in support works remarkably: “I didn’t want my sailboat to be in the driveway when I died” and Bob Wells talking about his son near the end with McDormand’s Mona Lisa smile of a response.
  • Zhao and cinematographer Joshua James Richards have earned the comparisons to Malick.  Many directors with strong photography, landscapes, nature photography get compared to Malick but this feels different. There is no lyrical voice-over here—but the dedication to magic hour photography is pure Terrence Malick- as is the location shooting. Parts are shot in Arizona, Nevada and South Dakota—the Badlands (hello again Malick)—dawn (a marvelous sunrise in the desert early) or dusk.

At the 23-minute mark the camera tracks right to left with McDormand as she paces— the sun is dipping back and forth above the mountains in the background—jaw-dropping. It may not be quite on that level but this is the Roma beach scene.

the dedication to magic hour photography is pure Terrence Malick

That pink, vanilla sky Monet of a cinematic painting (think Unforgiven—Schrader has a nice one in First Reformed) is used at least three times here. It is used in The Rider as well (which is also shot in South Dakota).

  • It is largely plotless- instead Zhao is after mood, and a poignant character study, a portrait of a life lived—but also a tale of the 2008 financial crisis fallout—and a modern-day sort of Steinbeckian tale with Fern as a version of Tom Joad (minus the anger but still carrying baggage).
  • Several still cinematic paintings like the Longhorn Saloon shot with McDormand outside—and the little space between the open fence in the backyard at her home in Empire with the mountains creating a beautiful landscape.
  • Highly Recommend/ Must See borderline film after one viewing