We are kicking off our new programme with probably the most garlanded film of the eighteen months we have been away. If you haven’t seen it on the wide screen it is intended for, then please come and do so. The film won a slew of awards in the 2021 season: Best Film, Director and Actress (Frances McDormand) at the Oscars; the same at the BAFTAs as well as Best Cinematography; and Best Film and Director at the Golden Globes. It won 233 awards at a variety of festivals and deservedly so. Unbelievably, Chloé Zhao is only the second woman director to be so honoured at the Oscars.
This was only Zhao’s third film, after Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider, all of them set in the mid-West and West of the USA, in spite of the fact that she was born in China. She was educated in London and Los Angeles and New York and spent some years getting to know the residents at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, before making her first film about them, using non-professional actors. Her second film, about the rodeo world, was inspired by cowboys she met in the area and also uses non-professional actors. It was only when she made Nomadland that she included two well-known actors, McDormand and David Strathairn. The other actors are genuine nomads who have adopted the lifestyle depicted in the film.
Frances McDormand is typically convincing as Fern – another indomitable outsider role in which she immerses herself completely, earning her third best actress Oscar. Recently widowed and cash-strapped, Fern decides to leave her longtime home town of Empire, Nevada following factory closures, and strike out on her own. Fern packs her life into a vehicle and heads off into an uncertain future. McDormand’s pioneering spirit has the vast horizons of America ahead, with cinematographer Joshua James Richards capturing the harsh beauty of the midwestern states that have long been enshrined in movie lore.
For a film so heavily garlanded with awards, what’s most striking about Nomadland is the almost incidental manner in which it tells its stories – eschewing strident dramatic crises or narrative lurches for something altogether more ambient. There’s a hardscrabble sense of ordinary ageing folk making the best of a bad deal in often desolate and unforgiving circumstances. Yet whatever hardships they face, it’s the air of community and self-determination that rings throughout Zhao’s empathic film.
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(39 seats remaining)
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Venue: William Loveless Hall