I am happy to recommend “Nomadland” by Chloé Zhao. It is a film made with great sensitivity, which helps to understand a type of poverty that affects many in the United States.
Even having won the Oscar (best film, director and actress), she escapes from various quirks of Hollywood cinema.
You know: those movies where first there’s a threat, then everything seems to be going well, the protagonists find a quiet shelter, but that’s just preparation for the moment when everything gets worse again and becomes really dangerous.
But what characterizes the film is precisely the systematic effort to escape this formula.
A very short scene, more or less at the beginning of the plot, summarizes this attitude of the director (which is also the attitude of the main character). It’s about avoiding sentimentality, but getting very close to it.
The character of Frances McDormand is alone in the world, and had to leave the house where she lived, after the main factory in her town closed its doors.
Many people had already left, to the house of relatives or who knows where, leaving what they had behind.
She makes her last purchases at the warehouse, stores her furniture and belongings in a warehouse. A thin black dog waits outside. “Hey, isn’t that so-and-so’s dog?” she asks the store owner. “That’s right,” the man replies. “So and so couldn’t take him there, he left him there.”
The camera moves away, the dog yips, McDormand is sorry, he walks away awkwardly, comes back and… In the typical film, she would take the dog, we would have the beginning of a beautiful friendship and later the dog would die.
“Nomadland” doesn’t do that, and neither does the character: he comes back, gives the dog a very reticent pet — it’s actually a goodbye — and goes on his way.
She couldn’t keep a dog in the van—that’s the reality. Unfortunately, in the midst of that total crisis, everyone will have to find their way.
Aesthetically, the line adopted by Chloé Zhao is the most correct: it would be very bad for a film that tries to draw tears and more tears of compassion from viewers. However, to maintain this attitude, “Nomadland” ends up having to pay an ideological price.
As desperate as the situation of an elderly woman in an old car, traveling aimlessly across the United States, the entire film strives to show that, after all, this life is a choice of the character.
On at least two occasions, the errant worker could settle in a new city and start over.
“Nomadland” extends the time in which the character thinks about what to do, making it clear that she “is free” to choose her next steps.
This is where the film, in my opinion, consciously gives in to a very American ideology, which only gained strength with neoliberalism. Individual independence, says “Nomadland”, is worth more than room and board.
Even more so if life in a van, with all its discomforts, turns out not to be so unbearable.
The movie hints at this all the time, in an irritating way. (Careful, spoilers). A friend of the character has to go to the hospital; needs to be operated on.
It would be sentimental if he died. By avoiding this, the film eliminates any health insurance, hospital access and surgery payment problems.
To survive, our heroine — who taught Shakespeare at school — takes a temporary job at Amazon. There is no news of bullying, overexploitation of work, overwhelming routine.
The movie seems to scream: “All normal”. Co-workers are great, the boss doesn’t or doesn’t exist, and there are good friends to make while you assemble cardboard boxes. It turns out that the movie
it’s a strange cross between “La La Land” and Italian neorealism.
On the road, in the camps, we only met nice people. All white, maybe some “native americans”. But no trumpists, no drunks, no junkies, no religious fanatics, no sniper maniacs.
It is based on the book-report by Jessica Bruder, co-author of the screenplay, and has several real characters recounting their life in the film, in a very beautiful way.
There is nothing more certain than showing that, victimized and poor, those people maintain their dignity, their courage, their beauty as human beings. But “Nomadland” seems to forget everything that relentlessly works to destroy it — with undeniable success.
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