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Nomadland Is A Masterly Melancholic Meditation On Desolation




Starring Frances McDormand

Written  & Directed  by  Chloe Zao

Rating:  ****

It is not easy to  watch this  film about a bleak barren desolate aging woman travelling down that road of life which has no end . It is  very difficult to not fall in love with this austerely beautiful drama  of desolation disrepair and  despair.  Writer-director Chloe Zao’s  earlier films Songs My Brothers Taught Me  and The Rider are masterly studies of  loneliness.  

Nothing has prepared  us  for Nomadland. Its masterly melancholic meditation on desolation is strangely uplifting. Most of  the  film’s running time  goes into celebrating  mortality, as  Fern, lately widowed, leaves  everything behind in her sparse  life to travel  across the western  deserts  of America  in  a van that has seen better days.So  we hope has  Fern.

But this is   not your conventional  road  movie. And to consider it  as one would  be doing this great work of art a  disservice. The film’s visual and emotional  resplendence is hard to pin down, let alone describe . This is a film meant  for the  big screen. Tiny  specks of emotion, scarcely  visible to the naked eye ,light up frame after frame . Joshua James Richards’ cinematography is  like  fleeting glances of Nature  from a rapidly moving train.Ephemeral yet  solidly tangible.

There is  an aura of imminent  tragedy  surrounding  the  protagonist. Thanks  to Frances McDormand’s  exceptional  performance , her  character Fern is not just a  ‘Character’. She is  real. She is pained. She laughs, sulks  and  excretes without  camera consciousness. She  is  with me even as I write this. She is someone  who would probably not like it if I knocked on her rickety van to say hello. She  doesn’t invite  proximity. She  is a true nomad.

Fern’s conversations with fellow-nomads,men and women who are travelling aimlessly  because  they have  little time left and there is  a long road to  travel, are so direct, so blunt and so mordant  , they  are  like  expositions on existentialism  simplified for the common man and woman. There is one conversation with the 74-year old Swanky(played by  a real-life nomad) where  she  tells Fern that her cancer has spread to her brains and  she has so much more to travel…Such episodes  of arrested beauty  defy wordly wisdom and  materialism .They will stay with you  forever.

 Much of time Fern  is alone , in her run-down cramped van  with space only to crawl into a  sleeping  position and bucket for attending to the call of Nature.Going through it all, Frances McDormand lives  and breathes every second of Fern’s life  . The Oscar would be  a very small reward  for a  performance so  monumental. 

McDormand  portrays Fern shorn of all selfpity. In fact spare her your sympathy . Fern is homeless  by choice.  She has a well-to-do  sister who  insists she  stay with her and  an admirer(David Strathairn) whose entire  family embraces her when she pays them a surprise  visit. 

But that’s not the life that  Fern  wants.She rejects  all offers  of a normal family life and  prefers to just  drive down that endless  road. Why? There is no easy answer  to that. But  Fern  will see all of us somewhere down that road.Real soon.

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