Movies

Chloe Zhao's Nomadland wins top prize at Venice film festival

Venice, Italy – Nomadland by director Chloe Zhao won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday, the first woman to win the top prize in a decade.

The film is an ode to American wanderlust and the highs and lows of the open road, and is set among the new tribe of ageing van dwellers, down on their luck and roaming the West. 

Double Oscar winner Frances McDormand plays a widow in her 60s in a depressed Nevada mining town who turns her van into a mobile home and sets out on the road, taking on seasonal jobs along the way. 

Nomadland’s Chinese-born director Chloe Zhao picked up the coveted award 10 years after Sofia Coppola’s 2010 win for her film Somewhere.

“Thank you so much for letting us come to your festival in this weird, weird, weird world and way,” McDormand said in a video message with Zhao, 38, who is one of Hollywood’s hottest new talents. 

Variety magazine hailed her last film, The Rider, about a rodeo grunt, as a “mini-masterpiece” and she currently is making the next Marvel movie, The Eternals.

Nomadland was loudly applauded when it premiered in Venice on Friday and had horns honking at its US premiere hours later at a drive-in cinema in Pasadena, California.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw said McDormand’s “quiet, self-effacing performance may be the best of her career”.

Other critics were also in raptures, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it “a unique portrait of outsider existence”. Variety said “the movie is a marvel of empathy and introspection”.

Zhao, who cast real van dwellers opposite McDormand, insisted the film was not political.

Many, however, saw it as an subtle allegory on US decline, with its humble heroes clinging onto the last threads of the American Dream.

The jury led by Australian actress Cate Blanchett gave two runner-up Silver Lion awards, one to Mexican director Michel Franco’s thriller New Order and the other to Japanese historic drama Wife Of A Spy by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. 

Veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky was also awarded a special jury prize for Dear Comrades!, a film about the 1962 massacre of striking workers in Novocherkassk which had been tipped as a frontrunner for the top prize. 

British actress Vanessa Kirby, who was in Venice with two films, won the best actress award for her performance as a woman reeling from the grief of losing her newborn daughter during a home birth in Pieces Of A Woman. 

The best actor prize went to Italy’s Pierfrancesco Favino for Padrenostro. - AFP/REUTERS

Movies