America universalised itself through the movies, prompting people everywhere to fantasise about a richer life in the country that had exported such alluring images. In Visconti’s Bellissima, Anna Magnani exults in the sight of a cattle drive as Howard Hawks’s western Red River is projected onto the wall of a Roman tenement, and in Godard’s A bout de souffle, Jean-Paul Belmondo conspiratorially salutes a poster of Humphrey Bogart. But these days, with its global supremacy weakening, America finds itself scrutinised by filmmakers whose eyes are more disenchanted. In Nomadland, the Chinese director Chloé Zhao ponders the dejected wanderings of rootless elderly Americans; in Minari, Lee Isaac Chung, who was born in Denver to South Korean immigrants, draws on his childhood in Arkansas, where his parents led a hardscrabble life struggling to survive as market gardeners.
Chung’s vision is quizzical. ‘Why is the sky green?’ asks the disoriented father of the little family; nature answers his rhetorical question by whipping up a tornado. His wife is aghast at her first glimpse of their so-called home – an empty trailer mounted on blocks and lacking steps, which