Nomadland ★★★★★

I think it's only natural to feel a little bit of resistance towards a film like Nomadland, especially after hearing so much high praise thrown its way throughout most of last year. And I did have several moments while watching it where I found myself wondering if it would live up to the hype, or if it could sustain its quality till the very end. Immediately after each of those moments, though, Chloe Zhao would launch into these breathtaking shots of American desert wilderness or a montage of working class loneliness and ennui, with Ludovico Einaudi's stunning piano score swelling up in the background—and I would find myself choking back tears every time, only then understanding the gravity of how much Fern has lost. Resistance is futile. This is easily one of the very best films of 2020. The power it has sneaks up on you, but it is staggering.

I knew that it would be gorgeous to behold. I knew that Frances McDormand would blend in effortlessly with all the nomads in the film (some of them playing versions of themselves, and giving incredible performances to boot). What I didn't expect was for Nomadland to be so nimble, too. Just like its characters, this thing skips along down the road—alternating between an enthusiasm to find meaning in all these new experiences, and this bittersweet tranquility of watching good friends continue down a separate path. Zhao balances the film's momentum so well, and her editing is pristine. Contrary to some critics who have called Nomadland slow, I actually found this quite restless. Again, like Fern, it almost seems scared of hanging on to one moment or relationship for too long, given how ephemeral one's experiences are in this nomadic lifestyle. It embraces the wonder in every moment and finds beauty in how human beings are but terrestrial satellites floating through nature—but it also breaks from this embrace quite abruptly. And these sudden movements from tenderness back into living on the edge never feel clumsy. Every single thing about this film feels like an organic part of its grand design.

(At this point, I feel like I really have to emphasize just how good Chloe Zhao is, even though it might seem like she isn't doing anything particularly showy or complicated at first. This woman manages to build an enormous amount of feeling through seemingly disparate events. I feel like many other filmmakers would've either tried too hard to make these vignettes seem connected to the whole, or they would've left them as forgettable, inconsequential moments. Zhao does neither. Don't be surprised she's been winning every single Best Director award so far.)

Nomadland is a film all about people who have been failed by America—victims of capitalism, of war, of unresolved tragedy in their lives. And while they made the choice to set out and live this way, they also largely had no other option to turn to. And Chloe Zhao nails all these conflicting emotions that come with their choice/non-choice. It's a film all about seeing the value in every attachment and relationship, while simultaneously learning to let them go. It's about resistance as much as it is about participation in our broken systems—if only to help other people find some peace in the moments they most sorely need it. It is a deeply, deeply sad film that is at once a celebration of our world and the fleeting connections we make with good people. It achieves so much while remaining completely unassuming, and I would be thrilled if it continues dominating this year's awards season.

Emil liked this review