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Home is Where the Heart Is: A TIFF Review of ‘Nomadland’

September 12, 2020Ben MK

We define ourselves by a great many things — from the jobs we work and the clothes we wear to the friends we keep and the place where we live. But what happens when you remove from the equation the very things that make you so quintessentially you? How do you forge a whole new identity for yourself when the old one is but a distant memory?

That's the sobering reality facing the strong-willed Fern (Frances McDormand) in Chloé Zhao's poignant road movie, Nomadland. A woman in her sixties who herself lost everything after financial disaster decimated her home town of Empire, Nevada, Fern has decided to pack up her life — or what's left of it — and head for the open road in a camper van. Making her way to Arizona, she meets up with other kindred spirits, some of them real people with heartbreakingly real stories, some of them characters portrayed by actors like David Strathairn. What they all share in common, however, is a desire for freedom — freedom from financial obligations, freedom to go wherever they want, and, perhaps most importantly, freedom from their own personal demons.

A story about finding community among a community of outsiders, the result is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year — a beautifully crafted piece of filmmaking as subtly understated as it is profoundly resonant, anchored by a lead performance that most certainly will not go unnoticed come awards season.

Nomadland screens under the Gala Presentations programme at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 47 min.

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