It can be difficult to separate two things when describing the premise of “Nomadic country”. The film, which made history as the first to win both the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the Audience Award at TIFF, chronicles the life of a modern and newly created American nomad. who lives and travels the country in a van, working odd jobs and surviving thanks to the community of like-minded people.
But there’s also a trendy movement of adventurous young adults who have used the pandemic to get out and roam, posting selfies in RVs from iconic photo ops in state parks … as they work. “remote” from their high paying jobs. I say hard to separate, not because they’re so similar in every way – this latter group certainly doesn’t save essentials or janitorial work throughout their trip – but because what was once a a way of life for those who are forced into itinerant work during their “golden” retirement years or called out to the fleeting by personal and / or professional tragedies – has now ironically become mainstream. Being or appearing frugal and “living on the earth” is cool again. Minimalism is trendy.
It’s unfortunate in some ways that “Nomadland” has to tackle this new subgroup of travel influencers and our very current association with them and their mundane travels. Despite this (or perhaps in light of) this new movement, and although it was filmed in 2018, a year and a half before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown of the world, “Nomadland” is always the most current. film this year, a raw and real exposition of an often forgotten American population in a story as beautiful as it is devastating, an ode to the virtues and atrocities of our great, but imperfect country.
Based on the 2017 non-fiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” by Jessica Bruder, the film works so well thanks to writer-director Chloe Zhao who used guerrilla production and directing. movies to do it. On the one hand, it sent producers to nomadic communities. They would send him photos, videos, and descriptions of real-life nomads, some of whom were later cast into the film and contributed immensely to its authenticity and, as Zhao said, to the script itself. The production crew – including Zhao and Frances McDormand, the film’s star – lived in motorhomes as they traveled through western America, getting incredible remote shots only available to those who wanted to. work for them.
Fern, played by the incomparable McDormand, lost her livelihood in the financial crash of 2008. In 2011, their home in Empire, Nevada was decimated. Everyone, both locals and industry, is gone. After losing her husband and without anything keeping her there, Fern adopts the nomadic way of life. She works a few weeks at the Amazon fulfillment center where she meets Linda, who invites her to a gathering of other people who exist to travel and who travel to exist. There, she learns the ins and outs of living in your van and commuting for work. When she bursts a tire, her new friend Swankie (played by a real nomad of the same name) helps her and awakens her to the importance of self-survival skills and preparation. Swankie, a veteran of the trade, has been diagnosed with cancer and chooses to spend the remaining months visiting the places she loves and making memories rather than hiding for treatment in a hospital.
Herein lies a point that Zhao is eager to make: the system we have in place for the elderly or those who do not fit in a 9-5 box is broken. Living without a traditional home is a choice for many, but perhaps not their first choice. Fern runs – memories of her husband, feelings of failure, what once was – but she also has no choice but to keep moving on until finally on the road is the only place she feels at home, returning to work season after season, visiting friends at every destination, but never with a final destination in mind.
Fern connects with fellow nomad Dave (David Strathairn), and their friendship is interwoven with his travels from Nevada to Wall Drug in South Dakota. When David moves in with his son after the birth of his grandchild, Fern struggles to understand his choice. She visits her own family and cannot comprehend the fully domestic life that she herself once lived. The bedside tables in the bedroom, the mundane discussions about real estate. It’s all so mundane compared to the vibrancy and thrill of floating naked along a river, no one else for miles. Or sit by the canyons overlooking the Badlands.
There is no doubt, however, that the film, despite being set across the country with panoramic shots of America in its most intimate glory, poignantly highlights the compelling life many lead, with little choice and a very unglamorous everyday life. It is also a compromise. Living without ties means a lot of options, but often the only consistent companion is loneliness. The title is a clever double meaning, referring to the land of the nomads that encompasses so much of this country, but also no man’s land, how many metropolitan residents can refer to said parts of the country. The strong undercurrent that runs through the film is that of hyper realism. Fern is everyone and no one. A nomad and no man. Significant and also very insignificant. Zhao doesn’t just nail this American story, she revolutionizes it.
“Nomadland” is available to stream on Hulu.