Sometime ago I discovered Chloé Zhao’s Songs My Brothers Taught Me, the story of a Native American boy planning to leave his family and the reservation. I like the subtle connection and tension between his sister and him. Her films are great portraits of characters from the margin of the society, first Native Americans, then in Nomadland, the tribe of wanderer by choice. It surprised me to learn Chloé was not born American but came from China, for she has made such fine narration that even American filmmakers would have admired.
While Songs My Brothers Taught Me was a fine independent movie, when Nomadland won the best picture of Golden Globe Award, I wonder if they have given her too much accolade. I was a little skeptical going into the theatre. Well, it was two hours well spent. The truth is, Nomadland is an excellent movie.
Frances McDormand plays Fern, a widow living out of her van, initially by necessity. But eventually, she was drawn into the tribe of a full time nomad who adopted this life as the true way of living. Chloé films feel very authentic. Here we have some fiercely independent people. They choose to live a lifestyle deviating from the stable and prosperous life desired by mainstream society. We are invited into their life to listen and to observe. While they survived on very little, the story was never patronizing. People support each other mutually. They are at once independent and communal.
The story is a lot more than day to day struggle of money and DIY vehicle repair. It was to live an unconventional life, to find your own way, and to contemplate the meaning of life.
Some scenes have caught my eye. First, the scene of people working inside Amazon’s massive distribution center. Amazon granted Chloé filming access. My guess it is because they recognize her talent and her style to depict situations non-judgmentally. The second interesting shot is a close up of a baby’s tender hand. It can make anybody’s heart melt.
Congratulations to Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao for the great film and the well deserved recognition.