Nomadland review: wanderlust at its best


On the Film Fest Gent program, this was the film I was really looking forward to. The latest from Chloe Zhao had already made a name for himself when he already won the Golden Lion in Venice and the audience award at the Toronto film festival the month before. And I was clearly not the only one who had the film at the top of their list. The press vision was as packed as possible with the corona measures in force. And the hype was more than justified for me, because I dare to use the word pearl for this one.

Zen wandering
I do want to mention right away that Nomadland may not be for everyone. This is not a film that relies on the spectacular plot, and that’s the point. Fern (Frances McDormand, Three Billboards ) has just lost her husband. They lived in the town of Empire, which shines in faded glory. There was once a large factory where they both worked until it was closed. Since then there has been no work, so many people have left. Fern can’t stand it without a job either, so she decides to leave her belongings behind and live in a van in search of work.

The first job she finds is at Amazon (where things are more relaxed than according to real employees). There Fern meets Linda, who tells her about a meeting place for nomads. She doesn’t plan to go at first, but when it gets colder and she can’t find work anymore, she goes to Arizona, where she learns from the other nomads. Her new lifestyle takes Fern to different places where she makes friends and actually learns more about life as well.

What was so good about Nomadland for me is that it made me super calm. You feel more like you are watching a documentary than a fictional film. The story itself is inspired by Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century , which follows several nomads. The film takes the time to explore the nomadic existence. The emphasis is on work, survival and the relationships they form anyway. This definitely makes it closer to the audience than most Hollywood movies. Themes such as grief, employment and health care are also mentioned.

In addition, several nomads actually play a fictional version of themselves, so that reality and fiction flow even further into each other. That was also the intention of the filmmakers: to leave the public in the delusion about what was real and what was not. This goal is aided in all areas by production.

Long live Frances McDormand
First and foremost there is the rendition of Frances McDormand. We have known for some time that she is a unique actress, but here she really gets into the skin of the character. According to Chloe Zhao herself, McDormand actually had to play a version of himself. McDormand would therefore have come up with the name of her character herself and based her dialogues and behavior on what she would be like as a nomad. She did it so well that the other nomads didn’t realize she was a famous actress. To prepare, she actually spent some time in the jobs she does in the film. Her performance and the interaction she has with the actors/nomads really adds to the documentary feel I mentioned earlier.

Another kudos certainly goes to Joshua James Richards’ cinematography. Richards was also responsible for the look of God’s Own Country and Zhao’s previous film The Rider . I was lucky enough to see Nomadland on the big screen and it’s really worth it. Because the nomadic existence never stays in the same place for long, many different locations are discussed. The crew reportedly covered nearly 12,000 miles across 5 states, filming in 19 cities. And all those locations are all beautifully portrayed. In any case, there are many beautiful landscapes in it, because the nomads usually look for the sparsely populated regions. But the lighting also gives it something dreamy, which makes you want to hang almost every shot on your wall.

The music is not newly composed but consists of existing tracks by composer Ludovico Einaudi. Those few quiet tracks fit very well with the atmosphere that Chloe Zhao wants to create. You see, I was totally a fan. If documentaries or slow burn fiction isn’t your thing, you might not agree with me. But give this one a shot when it comes out anyway, because there’s a good chance he’ll take home the Oscar for Best Picture this year.