Nomadland (M) - 108 minutes
A loner. A highly capable 61-year-old woman with little to her name, averse to the restraints of traditional society norms, leads a frugal, nomadic life with memories of the past with her now departed husband.
She – Fern (Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) – has always been a free spirit.
But she settled in a nondescript house in rural Nevada with the desert at her back door so hubby Beau could work in an environment he loved.
Then recession hit and the mining industry upon which the town was built collapsed and the place was abandoned.
Beau died and self-sufficient Fern is alone. The pair never had children.
She has an old van and travels from one camping ground to another in America’s West, although sometimes not even that.
On occasion, she simply parks in the middle of nowhere.
Fern picks up work wherever she can get it, never for a long period though.
She could be filling orders for Amazon, cleaning or working with food in a retail or wholesale context. She is not fussy and she doesn’t mind hard work.
What she does mind, though, is remaining stationary.
She befriends a number of grey nomads along the way, but never allows herself to get too close to them.
It is not that she is unfriendly or shy, but she is also clearly ill at ease with going much beyond pleasantries and necessities.
One man in particular, Dave (David Strathairn – An Interview with God), is keen on her. They keep bumping into one another, but her attitude remains as it was.
She and her establishment younger sister have a different view of the world.
We learn that Fern left home at an early age and hasn’t looked back.
By and large, then, she is comfortable in her own company, undertaking all the practicalities whenever possible and being left to her own thoughts.
McDormand gives another virtuoso performance in the lead. The film is firmly her vehicle.
She is so talented and authentic that she effectively “becomes” Fern.
Her non-verbal cues are as critical to her portrayal as her dialogue.
Real life nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells play Fern’s mentors and comrades, and make a fine fist of it.
Much credit must go to Chloe Zhao (The Rider) for her insightful screenplay, based upon a book by Jessica Bruder.
Importantly, Zhao allows Fern to “breathe”, which is an important part of her direction (she has also edited the film).
The gentle score by Ludovico Einaudi aids that cause, while Joshua James Richards gives life to the vast, often arid landscape through his cinematography.
As good as it is, Nomadland’s pacing and treatment make it a small audience, independent movie, one to satisfy the purists.
Rated M, it scores an 8 out of 10.