Due to declining demand for drywall, on January 31, 2011, the Drywall Corporation closed its 88-year-old factory in Empire, Nevada. The plant was a city-forming plant, so by July the postal code of the city 89405 was not used, since the city actually ceased to exist.
Fern (Frances McDormand) has worked almost all her life as an accountant at this plant. By the seventh ten, she was left completely alone: a year ago she lost her husband. The property in the dead town is worth nothing, there is no work there, so Fern sold what she could sell, bought a heavily used minivan from some guy, converted it to her own, named the car “Vanguard” and left this place forever.
From now on, “Vanguard” has become her home. Fern travels on it to places where there is work, such as the Amazon sorting center, works for a while, saving money, after which he quits and leaves wherever his eyes look, stopping at a certain place for several days along the way to spend time in company of nomads like her.
It cannot be said that this is a very comfortable existence, but at the same time Fern is free from any obligations, she can move to a place where she can find work at any time, she likes to travel across the vast American expanses, and in nomad camps she meets new people.
And it seems that she likes such a life.
This film is based on Jessica Bruder’s documentary Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century. To write this book, Jessica met with many Americans who lost their homes after the 2008 crisis and were forced to travel in used minivans and minibuses in search of temporary work, and they also lived in these minivans and minibuses because they had nowhere else to go. They couldn’t even afford motels. Well, let’s be honest, your home (even if it’s a minivan with a bed) is your home, whatever you say.
In addition, this created a certain group of people for whom life in minivans and mobile trailers became a certain meaning of existence, since they were no longer tied to any particular place and this gave them greater freedom of movement.
The book was very interested in the actress Frances McDormand, who did not see anything unusual in the idea of traveling across America in a minivan, and this idea even attracted her (at least theoretically): she became the producer, the leading lady and the main engine of this project, and the producers became the director was offered to Chloe Zhao, an ethnic Chinese woman born in Beijing who had come to America by the time she graduated from high school (before that, she had briefly studied at a boarding school in London).
Interestingly, Chloe Zhao is considered by American film critics to be one of the most interesting researchers of the American spirit in cinema: her first film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, told about life on an Indian reservation, the second film, Rider, told about a rising rodeo star, a young cowboy, who received a serious head injury, after which he had to try to figure out what he would do in this life now.
In both of these films, Chloe Zhao was based on real stories and featured non-professional actors who were involved in the stories.
The director used this approach in this film as well: the leading role is played by the wonderful actress Frances McDormand, winner of two Oscars for the leading female roles in the films Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but almost all other roles in the film non-professional actors played, or rather, the very nomads about whom this film tells, and they act here under their real names: and a charming old woman Linda May; and the cool Charlene Swanky with the “Jolly Roger” on her trailer (this is her trailer), who is going to follow the example of the Indians to go to Alaska to die there; and the ideologist of the nomadic movement Bob Wells, who holds meetings of nomads and at the same time helps people get used to such a life – he also played himself in the picture, and Fern’s conversations with Bob are pure improvisation.
In addition to Francis, there was only one professional actor in the film – David Strathairn, who played Dave, and David’s son James played the on-screen son of his character.
Both Francis and director Chloe were seriously preparing for the filming of this film. I read that they both lived in similar vans for four months to get a good idea of \u200b\u200bwhat it is, and Frances also worked for some time at the jobs that Fern found for herself: an assembly line worker at Amazon, a cashier at a cafe, national park ranger.
And she also brought a lot of purely personal things to this story: for example, those plates from the service that Fern gave to her father, which she greatly valued, in reality are plates (well, that is, copies) that Francis gave her adoptive father, pastor Vernon McDormand, and which she carefully keeps to this day.
Frances McDormand is a wonderful actress, at times simply amazing. And she always has very different characters: compare, for example, the idiot Linda Litzky from “Burn After Reading”; the tough, bilious and depressive Olivia from What Olivia Knows; desperate, but ready to confront the whole city, Mildred Hayes from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Here she has another type, also completely new. A woman in her sixties who had lived a rather bleak life, having lost her husband, who died in her arms. She has a sister who is ready to take her in, but Fern herself does not want this – to be someone’s host. She will continue to build her life herself, even if it will be a trip around the country in a used van with a not very comfortable life.
Her heroine, in the course of her travels, meets many people, listens to their stories (as we know, they are quite real), occasionally tells them something from her life.
Frances McDormand here plays extremely restrained, exclusively in semitones, and this is the highest level of acting skills when in this way she manages to demonstrate everything that her heroine goes through. And here you also need to understand that she communicates with ordinary people in the frame, who, I note, look very natural in the film, which is clearly the merit of the director, and she should not somehow differ from them, she is not different, she is the same a nomad like them, and it’s absolutely wonderfully played.
And the film shows well how Fern sincerely admires those corners of nature and those sights that she now has the opportunity to visit – here are compliments to both the director and the cameraman (the views in the picture are a separate impressive story), and the actress herself.
It is interesting that initially the picture looks rather depressing. And really: what is the joy of being homeless at retirement age and rolling around the country in a wretched second-hand van in search of a place where you can find at least some work?
But, however, the film clearly demonstrates that Fern finds a certain meaning in such a lifestyle, that he gives her pleasure and that she no longer imagines another life for herself! I was still afraid that she would have the opportunity to anchor somewhere, she would take advantage of this and a happy ending awaits us, but no: she no longer needs this, and even under the most favorable circumstances, because she is already a real nomad, whom do not lock in four walls!
And this movie is good! It seems like a depressing beginning, and you think that they will show you a picture of the disasters of the “new nomads”, but no – despite all sorts of everyday difficulties, you understand that these people have freed themselves from social attachment to some place (it doesn’t matter – voluntarily or under under the influence of circumstances), they travel through the amazingly beautiful places of their vast country, and they are really free!
Yes, they live in very modest living conditions, they do not have the Internet, yes, they defecate somewhere near the fence during trips or in a bucket in their minivan / trailer, but they do not depend on anyone for their movements and in their actions, and they are completely satisfied with it.
(When I was in Finland, I was told a lot about the fact that Finns, even quite wealthy ones, love to put an ordinary wooden blockhouse with a toilet on the street somewhere in the wilderness, where there is no cellular connection, and they spend their summer there with great pleasure. vacation, because unity with nature is the main thing for them, but whether the toilet is warm and whether there is an Internet at all – they don’t care at all.)
I will add that the film has an absolutely wonderful camera work by Joshua James Richards, who directed two previous films by Chloe Zhao, that there is an excellent soundtrack by the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, who wrote the music for the wonderful film “1 + 1” (Intouchables), but what about this picture has already won the Venice Film Festival (Golden Lion), received the American Golden Globe and, most likely, will receive several more Oscars – this can no longer be mentioned. Because awards are not the main thing!
By the way, director Chloe Zhao said in an interview that she deliberately removed all social satire and social criticism from the script, which she wrote based on the book by Jessica Bruder. It is clear that from a social point of view, a lot can be said about people who have honestly worked all their lives for this country, and by retirement it turned out that they have neither a roof over their heads nor payments that would allow them to lead a normal existence, but this movie is not really about that. Chloe tried to make it a story about people who became vagabonds, sort of modern migrants, about how they live, what they do and where they go. The director wanted this to be clear not only to Americans, but also to people in different countries, including her family in China – she talked about this in an interview.
I really enjoyed this movie, it’s superbly directed, superbly shot from a camera point of view, and well played by both great actors and non-professionals (Linda May and Charlene Swankee are absolutely wonderful, and Charlene Swankee, God rest her soul, died en route to Alaska, which she talked about in the film, and Bob Wells, the ideologist of this movement, played himself very well).
Truly a landmark film, one of the best to be released in 2020.
Well, as Bob Wells said in this movie: “There is no end to the road, but there is no need to say goodbye, so sooner or later we will see you on the road!” On that one, I might add, or another road!
Land of nomads / Nomadland movie review
Director: Chloe Zhao Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Gay DeForest, Patricia Grire, Linda May, Angela Race, Carl R Hughes, Douglas Jay Soule, Ryan Aquino, Teresa Buchanan, Karie Lynn McDermott
Drama, USA-Germany, 2020, 110 min.