Dir: Chloé Zhao
What is this about?
People who live in their vans in the United States, moving as and when they want or need, a sort of nomadic way of life.
Who is this film about?
Primarily it’s about Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who lives in a campervan. The film is ‘based’ on a non-fiction book, and if it weren’t for Frances McDormand and David Strathairn playing fictional roles, this could very easily pass for a documentary. Even with the A-list actors, it retains that feeling thanks in no small way to all the captivating real people who have parts.
Where does Fern live?
This is the beauty of living in a van, she’s able to go all over the place, moving for seasonal jobs and gatherings of other people living nomadic lifestyles. I got the feeling that she wants to be around people more than she doesn’t and seems to follow where her friends are, more than just setting off on a whim.
Why is Fern? houseless?
Fascinatingly, this character and her husband lived in Empire Nevada, a town that was built around a mine, existing almost solely to house the workers. When the mine was closed, so was the town, with the homes and buildings owned by the same company there was nothing much to stay for. It’s a predicament I’d never heard of before, this idea of a company town, where people have little recourse if they cease operations, leaving them without a job or a home. There’s also the idea that she’s grieving the loss of her husband, who died after being terminally ill. She’s looking for something, not sure what, but has a strong work ethic, so is happier to go where there’s work and cover her own expenses, than to move in with family.
How does it portray this lifestyle?
Very sensitively indeed. Naturally, you ask the question, why do people want to live in vans? There are a range of answers presented, the film touches on a few but never questions their motives or thinking, it just accepts their choices and hears them out on their reasons. Primarily we follow Fern’s journey, as she’s relatively new to this life, so we get more detail on her situation, though others seem to like being off the grid, or the ability to move and explore the country. The benefits of these things are touched upon, though the hardships aren’t neglected, giving a nice sense of balance.
When will I be able to see this?
It’s out now, but where you need to go to see it varies on where you live. It was a Searchlight production, which is now part of Disney, so they’ve popped it on Hulu in the U.S. just in time for peak Award season to help maintain the momentum that it got from early wins at Venice and Toronto. It’ll be added to the Star section of the Disney+ streaming service in the U.K. and other international regions soon, well ahead of Zhao’s next film, Marvel’s ‘Eternals’ in November.
With its documentary feel, naturalistic performances and beautiful score, it’s a film that captures a feeling of freedom and love for the outside world that we’re struggling to keep our connection with, in this sheltered, static existence of the past year.
Chloé Zhao has multiple roles, director, producer, writer, and editor, nominated for BAFTAs and Oscars for all 4 at each! She’s not going home/staying home without winning something! Also, I must point out the music of the film by Ludovico Einaudi which is really beautiful and worth listening to.