“Just like my dad used to say, ‘What’s remembered, lives.’ I maybe spent too much of my life just remembering.”
Straddling an inchoate space between documentary and fiction, Nomadland explores those who have adopted a nomadic lifestyle travelling around the USA, living in vehicles and picking up work as they go. Powerful, understated performances from Frances McDormand and David Straithairn provide a narrative arc, but most of the characters with whom Fern interacts are real-life nomads playing fictionalised versions of themselves. This provides not just verisimilitude but palpable poignancy to the discussions about the reasons they found themselves in this lifestyle — they are typically older people, unattractive to the job market, but also dealing with grief that perhaps prevents them from laying down new roots. Zhao’s approach to her subjects is gentle and without judgment, a lingering camera that searches for poetry in simplicity and trusts the viewer’s curiosity to understand this way of living. There are beautiful American landscapes but this is not a travelogue and the people are always the focus over the places. Nomadland is a work that feels necessary for its time in the same way as Up In The Air did during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis (with parallels in their rootless protagonists). This is slower and more ephemeral, with limited plot, but its ideas will linger with those who engage.
“When you love something, you protect it. It’s the most natural thing in the world.”
A millenia-spanning epic about immortal beings sent to Earth to shepherd humanity and the growth of civilisation, Eternals is one of the most experimental films within the MCU to date, handed to critically acclaimed independent film director Chloé Zhao. Although it is a flawed film, I think it is unfairly maligned by those who criticise the limited plot, when Eternals is deliberately written in a more thematic manner. The greater structural flaws are in pacing and in the manner that characters are introduced: the bulk of the film occurs as the Eternals reunite in present day, but these reunions are robbed of weight when we have to guess at the relationships which existed before, helped little by disjointed jumps through the ages to flesh out their familial conflicts. Time is spread thinly across the large ensemble cast. Eternals may be the most visually cohesive Marvel film to date, with its intricate golden art design and costuming, complementary visual effects for their powers, and beautiful cinematography — cinematographer Ben Davis was also responsible for the previous title holder, Doctor Strange. This extends to compellingly choreographed fight scenes — when the Eternals fight it often feels like a physical manifestation of differences of opinion. The most compelling concept is the idea of ageless beings searching for purpose amongst mortals, yet we see only glimpses through where they have ended up, some prioritising a dynastic career or family, whilst others find themselves inescapably isolated. Eternals‘ timing closely following the Infinity Saga is unfortunate in that it retreads Thanos’ quandary as to the justification of sacrificing life in order to allow more to flourish. I cannot help but feel that the film would have fared better unshackled from the expectations of fitting into a shared universe, particularly one in which they drastically escalate the power level as street level heroes become increasingly inconsequential against the likes of Celestials.