The pandemic short-film collection ‘Homemade’ will make you nostalgic for mid-April
Inspiring, frustrating, clever, cloying, indulgent, inventive, funny, freaky, even heartbreaking. Sometimes all at once. The omnibus collection Homemade, a cinematic bouquet of 17 short films showing the four corners of our newly pandemic world, is a viewing experience both electric and eclectic. Never has such cosmopolitan globe-trotting (France, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, you name it) felt so downright domestic. Not all the darts hit their marks, but the entire exercise is an absolute thrill.
HOMEMADE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Ladj Ly, Paolo Sorrentino, Rachel Morrison, Pablo Larraín, Rungano Nyoni, Natalia Beristain, Sebastian Schipper, Naomi Kawase, David Mackenzie, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nadine Labaki and Khaled Mouzanar, Antonio Campos, Johnny Ma, Kristen Stewart, Gurinder Chadha, Sebastián Lelio, Ana Lily Amirpour
Running time: 128 min
Celebrated Chilean auteur Pablo Larraín shepherded this experimental project, inviting nearly a score of international directors to make their original works under the painfully familiar restraints of quarantine. Larraín should know from limitations: he shot his dazzling 2012 film NO entirely on ¾-inch U-Matic videocassettes. Cooped up at home, these intrepid creative creatures each managed to conjure original works by enlisting friends and family as their crew, grabbing available equipment (phones, drones, computer screens, SLR cameras, even a slew of text bubbles), and using their living rooms and backyards as canvases.
The result is a mixed bag, as with any anthology. A few of the films in Homemade are duds, some are gems. None of them lacks for invention, though. And, taken together, they form an exhilarating snapshot mosaic of Life on Earth, May 2020.
Morrison’s tone poem, a sort of open letter she narrates to her two kids, is a Malickian reverie that miraculously conveys wide-eyed wonder despite all the anxiety. Sorrentino transforms his Roman flat into Vatican City in miniature, taking kitschy gift-shop statuettes of the Pope and Queen Elizabeth and imagining a state visit that turns into a randy isolation bubble. Nyoni whips up a delicious tale of two ex-lovers stuck in the same apartment. And solitary Sebastian Schipper turns his one-man-band status into a virtue with his delightfully solipsistic meditation on identity in triplicate.
Gyllenhaal’s sci-fi spin on Covid-19 casts her husband Peter Sarsgaard as a hermit in a lakeside cabin, far from an alien virus that causes lunar swelling and gravitational disruptions. His companions: a radio station with breathless reports of nearly a half billion people dead worldwide, plus a janky toaster that slowly fizzles out. And Kristen Stewart directs herself in a short film about how hard it is to live with herself. Not a fun film to watch, but certainly an unfiltered expression of the actor/director’s own inherent discomfort.
Mackenzie’s verité portrait of his teenage Glasgovian daughter, ferociously alive despite her quotidian frustrations, ends by observing that we are in arguably the most globally totalitarian even in human history. And yet. What’s so arresting about the film’s oppressive construct is how truly individualistic each film is. Campos’ pocket-sized psycho-thriller strikes such a confident, creepy tone so quickly that it’s a vivid reminder of how an assured artist can cast a spell even on the barest of budgets. And Lelio’s ambitious, bizarre solo musical—starring a cast of one, with an assist from her laundry—is flawed but oh so wonderfully alive.
Homemade bookends its stories with drone-heavy perspectives: Ly’s overview of a bristling yet contained Paris banlieue and Amirpour’s lone bicycle ride through the near-empty streets of West Hollywood. “Art is just a way to force a new perspective onto something familiar,” Cate Blanchett intones as Amirpour herself rides that bike. “Art is a way of surviving.” And even thriving, like weeds popping through concrete.
How strange to look back at that first burst of COVID-19 lockdown as a moment in time. Stranger still that these Homemade films might even conjure pangs of nostalgia for that initial sense of frustration and uncertainty that festooned a naïve hope that things will eventually go back to normal sooner rather than later. Of course they will, right? Right? We see the filmmakers refer to 55 days of lockdown, or 57 days in confinement, stated breathlessly, with an implicit sense of pride that they’d made it that far. How little they knew.