Dir: Paolo Sorrentino, Rachel Morrison, Pablo Larraín, Rungano Nyoni, Natalia Beristáin, Sebastian Schipper, Naomi Kawase, David Mackenzie, Nadine Labaki, Khaled Mouzanar, Antonio Campos, Kristen Stewart, Gurinder Chadha, Sebastián Lelio, Ana Lily Amirpour, Ladj Ly, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Johnny Ma. Starring: Kristen Stewart, Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard, Olivia Williams, Javier Cámara. 12 cert
It’s hard not to dread the inevitable flood of coronavirus-inspired art. A year or so down the line and we’ll all be trying our best to move forward, only for the opportunists to descend, romanticising our trauma and crafting shallow grabs at relevancy. Netflix’s Homemade feels different. A selection of 17 shorts, between four and 11 minutes long, it sees directors from across the globe cast out messages in a bottle from the midst of this crisis.
It’s powerful stuff: raw, introspective, and vulnerable. There’s something disarming about the way Kristen Stewart, directing her second short after 2017’s Come Swim, invites us into the hazy routines of an insomniac. Or there’s the comfort of Cate Blanchett’s melodic tones, as she narrates a solo bike ride through Los Angeles, past shuttered cinemas and abandoned streets. She’s the voice of Ana Lily Amirpour’s entry, which ponders on the purpose of art at a time like this, when “our lives… must be reconstructed”. Homemade reminds us how interconnected we truly are – a balm for those in quarantine, potentially experiencing the most intense loneliness of their lives.
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These stories take on every guise: Maggie Gyllenhaal delves into sci-fi, Sebastián Lelio stages a musical, and Antonio Campos offers a slice of horror. Although they don’t all speak directly to the pandemic, each is concerned with the idea of communication, through phones, Zoom calls, radio dispatches, and paper aeroplanes. Rungano Nyoni’s sweet and funny entry explores the breakdown of a relationship in lockdown using only text messages and group chats, alongside a few videos looking outside her window in Lisbon. One of the best entries, Homemade’s opener, is by Ladj Ly. It sends a drone out over Clichy Montfermeil in order to capture one of France’s hardest-hit areas. Friends hang out on rooftops, a father homeschools his children, women queue for the market – then there’s something darker, a brief glimpse of an abusive relationship. “If the current times are tough, for whom is it so?” the closing title reads.
Homemade never feels insular. When necessary, filmmakers are upfront about their own privilege. Rachel Morrison, best known as Black Panther’s cinematographer, directs a sun-dappled piece titled “The Lucky Ones”, in which she tells her young son: “We are the fortunate few with food on the table… recognise our fortune, be grateful.” But they’re authentic to their own experiences, too. We’re privy to all the different ways the human mind might cope with such an odd, volatile world. Paolo Sorrentino turns to humour, as he imagines Queen Elizabeth II and the Pope – depicted by chintzy figurines, voiced by Olivia Williams and Javier Cámara – trapped together in lockdown. So does Pablo Larraín, whose short sees an elderly Don Juan reach out to his past lovers, in fear that he’s caught the virus. It’s earthy and sharp.
Nadine Labaki and Khaled Mouzanar find joy in their daughter’s playtime yarns. Naomi Kawase’s mood is more apocalyptic, as she fills her entry with the sounds of ominous codes and panicked running. Gurinder Chadha, meanwhile, looks for balance. Her video diary offers both grief and improvised Easter egg hunts, as her children document their time together in quarantine.
Handmade, in that sense, feels like an important document for our time. As we desperately (and, in some cases, recklessly) strive to return to normal life, these films dare to embrace the uncertainty.