Thoughts & Insights
A Quiet Blessing in Noisy Times
This film is simple and difficult at the same time. It’s a joy for the eye, for the ear, and above all for the soul. In times like these. Nomadland – the first film I’ve seen in the cinema for over nine months when the cinemas in Germany were closed because of the pandemic. A great cloud of longing hung over this time. It evaporated for a brief moment after a few minutes in the cinema and then turned into a cloud of happy melancholy that accompanies this film from its beginning to its end.
Two feelings that come together in a moment, completely unplanned, as though they belonged together.
Now I am sitting here and wanting to write about what I’ve seen. It’s true that here and today I want to write about this one film Nomadland, which moved me very deeply. Yet after the longest period of my life being away from the cinema it also goes hand in hand with a declaration of love for film and the cinema in general.
Ever since the great pioneer of cinema Georges Méliès began the greatest adventure of his life over one hundred years ago by putting everything he had into the production of films, movies have belonged to a fascinating dimension of reality that can only be experienced when you sit back in a soft chair in a large dark room, equipped with a brilliant screen and the best acoustics, and in a few minutes are so drawn into what is happening on the screen that you forget the rest of the world. Many directors and producers have shown us time and again how movies of such quality are made. One of the best of them, Martin Scorsese, with his marvellous 3D film Hugo Cabret, has posthumously paid Georges Mèliés the tribute he has long deserved.
And Hollywood showed itself wowed by Nomadland too, with the Academy awarding it three Oscars this year – one for best film, one for the extraordinary directing of the young Chloé Zhao, and one for the incomparable Frances McDormand who is always completely herself. Just how much she always remains true to herself when she acts becomes clearer in this film than in all her previous movies. Because here she is playing together with people who are not professional actors but real nomads. And she doesn’t play them to the wall but feels and fits in as though she were one of them herself, letting them really come into their own in the interplay. She lives with them for the duration of the film, leading the life that many Americans lead who have freed themselves from the confines of settled affluence – more or less voluntarily. Frances McDormand is an exceptional actress and human being in Hollywood. Good that she’s there. And good that this film exists. It provides an antidote to the raucous posturing of these times when collective outrage occasionally and absurdly outstrips itself by telling this story that’s as quiet as it is impressive. But the best way to find out everything else about this film is to see it yourself.
Generally speaking, I would ask you and also urge you to go to the cinema now and as often as possible because this is the only way that movie theatres will have a lasting chance in the competition with streaming services. These services, like internet providers of all kinds, have been the great winners of the lockdown in the film business. I, too, watched many a film at home during the lockdown, but only those broadcast by TV stations – and not a single one in the programme of major streaming services.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s of the last century cinema had already been pronounced dead. Wim Wenders, arguably one of the best German directors, dedicated one of his first films Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road) which is absolutely worth seeing, to the demise of provincial cinema at the time. Yet cinema reinvented itself, survived and experienced a resurrection that hardly anyone would have predicted. It would be fantastic if that now could happen a second time. Because truly great films need a really great screen and the undivided attention of their viewers. There is no substitute for real cinema.
I was more able to compensate for the loss of the cinema last year through music and reading than through films in small screen format – no matter how wide the diagonal or how high the HDTV quality. Because I also love these highly personal movies that spring up in my mind when I’m reading a novel or listening to good music. Yet I also love to see what others make of the personal films they play in their own minds, and bring to the silver screen for the whole world to see. And it’s been that way since I was not even ten years old and went every Saturday to the Spira Cinema in my home town for 50 cents to join a noisy crowd of kids sitting on the floor and watch Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, “Fuzzi” and “Father Brown”. OUBEY shared this love of cinema with me like no other person before or after in my life. Perhaps that’s why the two lines that had the entire screen to themselves for a moment in the credits of Nomadland moved me so much:
Dedicated to all those who have left us. Au revoir
The story that this film tells, for one hundred and ten minutes, so quietly, so intensely and so grippingly, here opens up its existential moment of singularity – quite in the sense of Thomas Pynchon whose monumental novel Gravity´s Rainbow was the subject of our last article Beyond Zero – Between Entropy and Transcendence, Nomadland is anything but monumental. And yet the film does have something in common with Pynchon´s novel; the idea that those who are struck at some point by the lightening of life still live on in this world yet at the same time are also at home in another world. They give the impression that they’re from this world, which in purely physical terms, they are. But in their hearts, their souls, they live in another world. In Nomadland?