Up until this year, one of the most reliable joys of my job had been going to the Telluride Film Festival at the end of each summer, then putting together a roundup to convey the meaning of the event. From one year to the next, I wrote about different films, of course, but I also used different recurring themes. One was a mandatory reference to altitude (“this old Colorado mining town in the Rocky Mountains”). Others were expressions of gratitude, for the beauty of the setting and the purity of the air, but above all for the certainty that seeing a dozen or more good movies over the course of a long weekend would renew my faith in the middle, however gloomy. presumed successes of the previous summer could have been.
The summer of 2020 has arrived and is almost over, having defined gloom with a vengeance, and the festival has been canceled, another victim of the pandemic. Last week, however, Telluride opened a store near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, of all places – just for one night, at sea level, more or less, in stale air caused by nearby fires – and showed a single film, “Nomadland”, by Chloé Zhao (“The Rider”), on the screen of a pop-up disc in the cinema.
If this was a normal festival in a normal year, I would have described the film in a paragraph or so, then I would have moved on to other delights. Given the current anomalies, I’ll cover the one Telluride attraction at hand, and I’ll do it briefly – a full review must wait until opening day, December 4th – but with a spirit of gratitude bordering on wonder. Because, apparently, a full-fledged festival is not necessary to renew faith in films, even after six long months of deprivation of the big screen; to watch new movies streamed on TV, to endure choppy movements caused by uncertain Wi-Fi.
All it takes is a single film, as long as it is thrilling, deep, heartwarming and almost literally thrilling as it proves to be Ms. Zhao’s latest feature film. Drive-in theaters are strange places; they allow you to enjoy the comforts of your car, but make you reach out to emotionally connect with a standalone screen at a considerable distance. Five minutes after starting this film, my connection was intense and unshakable.
“Nomadland” is set, as befits the title, everywhere, meaning in this case the eerie vastness of the American West. The nomad we follow, in a story that is practically lightened by a plot, is Fern, a woman in her sixties interpreted to perfection by Frances McDormand’s breathtaking. After losing her job and almost everything else during the Great Recession, Fern is what we would call homeless and what she calls homeless; she has her run-down van and survival skills that keep her more or less afloat as she wanders from job to job. What worries this road movie the most is the wanderer’s soul: how it keeps hope alive, why it rejects any possibility of a stable existence in favor of being with other nomads – elderly men and women looking at each other. other in a dream of kindness that transcends political stereotypes and friendships that come and go that challenge distances.