Zhaoâ€™s first two films, â€œSongs My Brothers Taught Meâ€ and â€œThe Rider,â€ starred mostly nonprofessional actors, establishing her as a virtuoso who thrives with limited resources. Here, she gets a bigger budget and a movie star but still maintains the verisimilitude that makes her work seem excerpted from someoneâ€™s diary. McDormand is surrounded by first-time performers, and what she achieves amid their rawness ranks high in her already impressive career. Her weathered face telegraphs the anguish and euphoria of human connection.
â€œNomadland,â€ which takes inspiration from Jessica Bruderâ€™s 2017 nonfiction book of the same name, asks how an individual might function when distanced from the conventions of modern life. It is far more than an â€œInto the Wildâ€-type saga about a hippie communing with nature, though Zhao seizes plenty of opportunities to emphasize the great outdoorsâ€™ allure. This is a miniaturized character study about a population not often legitimized in the American imagination. It is ravishing. Iâ€™m not sure weâ€™ll see a better movie this year.
â€œNomadlandâ€ is scheduled for release on Dec. 4.