FlixChatter Review: NOMADLAND (2021)

I actually saw this one a few months ago at Twin Cities Film Fest. It was my pick of film of the month in October and also earns a spot on my Top 10 Best list of 2020. Nomadland is  about a woman named Fern (Frances McDormand) who lost everything in the Great Recession sets off on a journey through the American West with her van. The last film of Chloé Zhao that I watched, The Rider, showed a slice of life from a world I’m not familiar with and this time she showed life of modern-day nomad.

The film is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Jessica Bruder. The book documents stories of dispossessed older Americans (mostly 50s-60s) who face the largest reversal in retirement security in American history and ends up becoming workampers — working while living out of an RV or a tent. Fern is one of those people, having lost her husband, her job at a US Gypsum plant, and ultimately her old-company town Empire, Nevada, which died with the factory closure in 2011.

Now, the film doesn’t delve too much into the background of the economic crisis or the capital/government greed that causes them, but it explores a human story told through the perspective someone who choose to live that life. It seems that even though it’s obviously a tough life uprooting oneself into living in a ratty van, sans the comfort most house-dwellers take for granted, Fern and her fellow nomads seems content, even happy living this way. There’s a memorable scene of Fern saying “I’m not homeless, I’m just houseless,” with a defiant glee when friends offer her a place to stay. The film shows her working various jobs, most notably Amazon warehouses, and at times struggling to even get seasonal work. It seems like a lonely life, but there is actually a close-knit community that sustain them and this film actually features real nomads, Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells, who are featured in Bruder’s book. They become friends and mentors for Fern.

The film features a quiet yet intricate performance from McDormand, who apparently did some method acting for the role as she actually slept in a van used in the film for a while. Most of the time she only gets to act with her expressions as there are countless of shots of her gazing into the vast, beautiful landscape… and a brief shot of her serenely floating in a pool of water stark naked (I wonder if that’s what garnered this film an R rating?!). I find Fern as a fascinating character, but also frustrating and hard to warm up to, not sure if this is because the film never allowed us to really get to know her.

During her journey, Fern meets a fellow workcamper named Dave (David Strathrain, the only other prominent actor in the film) and the two strikes a tentative friendship. They end up working a part-time job together, but when Dave’s son visits him, Dave ends up staying with him in a large house on the country. Dave invites Fern to join him and later we see Fern come and visit him. It’s perhaps the only time we see Fern sleeping in a bed inside, but it’s interesting to see that she’s no longer comfortable living within the confines of a house. McDormand’s nuanced performance conveys the feeling that living day to day in the same place, same environment, despite all the comfort, would actually infringes on her sense of freedom.

Though not much happens in this film, there’s actually a lot to mull over and reflect upon. It made me think of certain aspects of my own life and others close to me, what I would do if I were in her situation. The scene of her walking in her old company town that’s now desolate is quite heart-wrenching. I was curious if Fern would actually consider Dave’s invitation and start a new life again as she once did… living with a new family (albeit an adopted one) and live in a real home again. The finale shows Fern’s decision without much words being spoken, but yet it packs a punch. Nomadland is truly a graceful, poetic, reflective film, boasted by stunning cinematography by DP Joshua James Richards and beautiful, serene music by composer Ludovico Einaudi.

After watching this, I’ve become even more of a fan of Chloé Zhao’s remarkable storytelling style. It’s so refreshing that Zhao features a woman over 50 in a leading role, which is a rarity given Hollywood’s issue with ageism. I can’t wait to see Eternals, especially after hearing Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige quote saying that her pitch was the best he’s ever heard, apparently it’ll be a very big, sweeping, multi-millennial-spaning story (per this article). So even if you’re not typically into slower-paced dramas, I still highly recommend Nomadland. It’s a study of restraint in its minimalism, almost stripped bare of frills in terms of special effects or unnecessary dialog, but done to great effect.

Have you seen NOMADLAND? Well, what did you think?

Weekend Roundup and The Whistleblower Review

Happy Tuesday, folks! Well, Minnesota weather is all but predictable and this weekend alone we seem to have gone through two seasons within a matter of 48 hours! On Saturday it was a balmy 69 degrees — people out driving their convertibles and walking in shorts ‘n sandals. There’s even a tornado touch down in a town next to mine, which is unheard of in November! But by the time Sunday rolls around, cool cold wind sets in and by Monday morning, wind chill factor is in the single digit, plus there’s a coating of snow on my way to work [sigh]

Photo courtesy of Startribune.com

I count myself blessed that I didn’t live anywhere near a hill like this one in Ramsey Street in St. Paul! There were a ton of accidents this morning as people were slippin’ and slidin’ down the icy road.

As for movie watching, well it ended up being the weekend of Mr and Mrs Daniel Craig. I saw Skyfall on Friday night and on Saturday I saw a movie starring Craig’s wife Rachel Weisz called The Whistleblower. The two played husband and wife in the the thriller Dream House and got married soon after. I think Weisz is gorgeous enough to actually play a Bond girl, I wonder if she’d ever considering it though. I mean that’d be something we’ve never seen before in the history of Bond movies, seeing a husband and wife playing Bond and Bond girl!! Anyway, thanks to Amanda who told me in the comment section of my rant post that this film has now become available to rent.

Now on to the review…

The Whistleblower (2010)

A drama based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the U.N. for covering up a sex scandal.

Despite the stellar cast, for some reason this movie is rather obscure. I don’t even know if it ever got a theatrical release, seems like it went straight to dvd after it premiered in various film festivals. It’s too bad as it’s a decent film that deals with an important subject matter most people don’t know about. It’s heart-breaking to learn about the human trafficking and forced prostitution happening in Bosnia, especially when it’s done by the security people contracted to protect those people.

This film is deliberately done like an investigative journalism without much flair. The ‘raw’ quality is likely due to its shoe-string budget, but I find it fitting given the subject matter. In fact, I feel that the lack of ‘beauty’ in this film makes us focus on the story more, there’s not pretty scenery or manipulative music to distract us, it was just the characters and what’s happening to them. The living condition these girls are subjected to is appalling and heart-wrenching, but nobody is willing to stand up for them. In a way it’s a David vs. Goliath story told in a matter-of-fact manner.

Rachel Weisz is excellent as the sympathetic police officer who’s in over her head trying to do the right thing. She could be too strikingly beautiful for this role, but somehow they manage to make her look quite plain here. I’m glad she took on an important role despite this being a low profile project. The film doesn’t portray Bolkovac as a flawless saint, but she’s certainly heroic in risking her job and her own well-being going after such a protected organization. The supporting cast is top notch, we’ve got Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, David Strathrain, and Benedict Cumberbatch who sadly wasn’t given much to do.

Despite the powerful, ripped-from-the-headlines story, the slow pacing and some unnecessary subplots such as Bolkovach’s romance with a colleague drag the film down. It could be due to director Larysa Kondracki’s lack of experience, as I feel that it could’ve been a much more intriguing film than what it was. Overall, it’s truly a difficult film to watch, the tone is staggeringly bleak which makes it even more depressing. The violent scenes are pretty brutal, there’s one particular scene that is so barbaric that it’s painful to watch. Yet the violence is not meant to be ‘entertainment,’ but to show just the kind of extreme brutality and injustice happening in our world.

What’s most depressing is that these atrocities are still allowed to continue as the perpetrators are not persecuted due to diplomatic immunity. That said, I’m glad they brought this story to light and it’s always inspiring to see regular people standing up to those who can’t defend themselves. Despite its flaws, I’d recommend this film, it’s really quite eye-opening.
..

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Well, that’s my weekend roundup. How ’bout you, seen anything good?