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FILM OF THE WEEK Powerful tale of a wandering soul

MARIA DUARTE recommends an understated drama about a woman who loses everything and becomes a van-dwelling nomad in the American West

Nomadland (12A)
Directed by Chloe Zhao

INDEPENDENT film-maker Chloe Zhao made history this week with this quietly understated but powerful drama about the little-known life of modern-day nomads in the American West, by becoming the first woman of colour and the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for best director.

The film, which scooped three accolades at this year’s Oscars, is based on Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st century, which Zhao adapted for the big screen.

It follows 61-year-old Fern (Frances McDormand) who, having lost her husband and her former life when the recession effectively closed down the mining town where she lived, embarks on a cross-country road trip.

Living as a van dweller, she travels from one seasonal job to another and meets kindred nomadic spirits along the way, including a potential suitor (David Strathairn).

Zhao shines a poignant light on the lives of people who are being overlooked, such as the old and those living on the periphery of society, in this quasi-documentary. McDormand plays opposite real-life nomads such as Charlene Swankie, Linda May and Bob Wells and the performances are absolutely seamless due to Zhao’s extraordinary ability to bring out the best in her non-professional cast.

While Fern is a woman of few words, all the pain, loss and hardship she has endured is etched on McDormand’s face. Without saying a thing, the camera captures what she is feeling and thinking — a  testament to McDormand’s innate and remarkable acting talent. She well deserves her third Oscar for best actress.

This is also a film that champions older women and people who are redefining the American dream by living life on their terms out of a van. As Fern declares: “I am houseless, not homeless,” which of course isn’t the same thing.

The film serves up breathtaking panoramic vistas of the American West and a rich and fascinating slice of unseen life which shows that being a nomad is a choice, not a circumstance.

Available via Star on Disney+ and in cinemas from May 17.

 

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