Frances McDormand and a cast of non-professional, real-life nomads unite to explore the life of the modern American itinerant in Nomadland. We consider the line between fiction and reality, the non-professionals who appear bringing their real experiences and stories with them, and discuss what drives a person to their way of life. Like director Chloé Zhao’s previous feature, The Rider, Nomadland is a textural, contemplative film, and perhaps one that grows in stature upon reflection – while José loved every moment, Mike was bored by the tempo, but finds much to praise nonetheless. A film worth taking the time to sink into.
A contemporary Western played by non-professional actors and based closely on their real lives, The Rider is both heartfelt and riddled with cliché. Brady is one of a group of young men in the American Midwest who ride bucking horses and bulls, risking severe injury and death, in what can be seen at once as both a vital act of keeping tradition alive and a tacit admission that the opportunities offered by America are dwindling and serve to keep people in their place. Mike also describes it as “a stupid sport”.
José sees a kinship with American Animals in its portrayal of young American men with no sex lives or apparent interest in sex lives; Mike believes it’s a film that will flatter those who like to pride themselves on seeing “quality” cinema. There are scenes of beauty, including those with a former rider profoundly injured and restricted to life in an assisted living facility – Brady’s love for his friend, expressed throughout the film, is touching. And the horse wrangling is simply spectacular and worth it for its own sake.
A film with deep flaws, an indulgence in cliché, visual unoriginality, and too rosy a view on its subject matter, but nonetheless with flashes of beauty.
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