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TIFF 2020 Review: Nomadland

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Still mourning the death of her husband, Fern (Frances McDormand) decides to drive across America living in her old RV.

After paying the storage fees, Fern heads out across the American West doing a wide variety of jobs to pay her way; the odyssey leads to a variety of familiar and new faces.  The transient lifestyle for those marginalized by society resembles the plight of the migrant workers during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Granted for some it is a personal choice to put all of their belongings in an RV and to explore what the world has to offer.  For Fern, the years of living in the same place under the same roof has caused a deep-seated restlessness to go out into the world and live. But even freedom comes with a personal and financial cost.

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There is no surprise that there are a series of close-up shots mixed in with beautiful vistas as the face of Francis McDormand speaks volumes even when she says nothing.  It is a tour de force performance for an actress who throughout her career has been able to mesmerize audiences.  An interesting choice for filmmaker Chloé Zhao was to incorporate documentary-style interviews into the narrative; one gets the distinct impression that McDormand is mixing with non-actors which adds to the authentic storytelling.

There are some conventional elements like a possible love interest in the form of David Strathairn and the return to suburban life to collect a loan from a sister.  However, these contrasts and possibilities emphasize that the choices being made by Fern are not frivolous and reckless; she realizes that the best chance of healing herself is being out on the open road rather than standing still.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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