11 June 2021.
“I’ll see you down the road”. That’s the credo of these people who live on the road, in vans and campers, as long as they are free to roam the land and settle momentarily where they want. They are the modern pioneers of another face of America, unknown to most of us.
Frances McDormand is amazing as Fern, a woman who lives alone in her van, completely content with her rudimentary quarters. She holds all sorts of jobs, from a packer in a huge Amazon plant to cooking in diners, cleaning toilets, working with heavy machinery, whatever menial job to tide her over in her singular, nomadic life. She is one of these people who for whatever reason, whether financial, emotional, psychological, or by choice, have ended up on the road.
The Chinese/American director Chloe Zhao, who ran off with most of this past year’s director and best film awards, has created here a beautiful, very moving homage to these utterly independent, hardy folk. With magnificent cinematography, occasional haunting music (by the great Ludovico Einaudi) and authentic actors from the ranks of these actual American nomads, she has woven a poetic tribute to decent, kind-hearted people who, despite their relative poverty, seem free, a community in their individual choices. There are shades here of David Lynch’s “A Straight Story”, his heartfelt hymn to mid-America.
Despite its social premise, there is no political preaching anywhere, no pandering to the right or the left. It’s just about simple people who have fallen upon the hard road of life, coming together and parting. And who even quote classical poetry or recount simple anecdotes of their lives and their dreams. There are moments of such tenderness, such connection, that there will be either tears coming without warning or that lump in your throat. There’s a sick woman’s description of the beauty of swooping swallows and reflections in the water, of a man trying to tell a woman that she really means something to him, of a family Thanksgiving that truly is loving.
Fern epitomizes one of these people. McDormand’s brilliance is in her silences, her observations and the thoughts that show behind her eyes. She gives such dignity and integrity to Fern that though you’re puzzled about her behaviour and decisions, you are also completely convinced.
This is a film of both basic existence and great depth and beauty. It fully deserves all of its awards (Venice, César, BAFTA, Oscars, etc, etc.), especially the numerous best actress honors to Frances McDormand.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.