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ChloĆ© Zhao · USA/Germany · 2020 · 108 mins · PG
Awards IMDb9394%

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture!

Accepting her Oscar for best director last week, the Chinese film-maker Chloé Zhao remarked: “I have always found goodness in the people I met, everywhere I went in the world.” That sentiment runs throughout Zhao’s third feature, a gentle tone poem with western genre inflections, mining the rich seams of human kindness that run through the margins of society.

Frances McDormand is typically convincing as Fern – another indomitable outsider role in which she immerses herself completely, earning her third best actress Oscar. Recently widowed and cash-strapped, Fern decides to leave her longtime home town of Empire, Nevada following factory closures, and strike out on her own. Like a more adventurous Stateside relative of Maggie Smith’s Miss Shepherd in The Lady in the Van, Fern packs her life into a vehicle and heads off into an uncertain future. But rather than becoming hospitably marooned on a cramped driveway in Camden, McDormand’s pioneering spirit has the vast horizons of America ahead, with cinematographer Joshua James Richards capturing the harsh beauty of the midwestern states that have long been enshrined in movie lore.

At first, life on the road seems perilous and bleak, with inclement weather and cold economic realities giving Fern the chills. Yet she gradually discovers the warmth of America’s travelling community, helped by inspirational figures such as the charismatic Bob (Bob Wells), at whose communal desert rendezvous new life skills are passed around by those who are not “homeless” but simply “houseless”.

As with featured players Linda May and Charlene Swankie, Wells is a real-life van-dweller playing close to home. Building on the experiences of her previous films Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider, Zhao here mixes seasoned performers like McDormand and David Strathairn with non-professionals, lending an air of documentary-style authenticity to the proceedings.--Observer

“Frances McDormand delivers a career-best turn in this gently meditative drama about the failure of the American dream.”—The Jewish Chronicle

“Life on the road has never been so tenderly captured, politically alive and profoundly moving.”—Empire Magazine

Cast Frances McDormand, David Strathairn
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