Powered By Square1.io
Streaming services are one of the few parts of the entertainment industry turning a profit during the coronavirus pandemic as everyone is stuck at home or prevented from attending cinemas and theatres. How long that will last, who knows? One imagines for many, if Covid numbers continue to rise worldwide, their content wells will eventually run dry, as shows and movies are unable to continue or start filming.
That said, this doesn’t seem like a problem for Netflix. For one, the service – the first streamer to really go mainstream – has said their 2020 slate of series and films are largely shot. Ted Sarandos, the company’s chief content officer, has also stated the service is actually “pretty deep” into its 2021 slate.” Perhaps, it’s this safety net that comes with being so successful which has enabled them to actually look around at the chaos of the past few months and turn it into something its subscribers would want to binge.
The end result is Homemade, a series of 17 shorts – all between 4 and 11 minutes in length. They are directed by filmmakers around the world using only equipment found at home, with the short’s stories often exploring life under lockdown. Perhaps Netflix should not get all the credit for the project’s ingenuity, as one of its brainchilds and contributors is Chilean director Pablo Larrain – best known for helming quasi biopics Jackie and Neruda, as well as this year’s HeadStuff favourite Ema.
Like all anthologies, Homemade is undeniably a mixed bag. The weaker entries tend to fall into two categories – abstract and experimental (Naomi Kawase’s ‘Last Message’ or Sebastian Schipper’s ‘Casino’) or rambling if realistic (David Mackenzie’s ‘Ferosa’). In terms of the former, the end result is shorts which feel a tad undercooked and indulgent. The latter examples, meanwhile, come across as less artistic and more like the type of grim bite-sized docs one would see on the news.
That said, even the Homemade project at its weakest serves fascinating as a revealing look at what filmmakers can produce with less at their disposal. At its best, though, it showcases that age-old rule that money isn’t everything when it comes to movies. Often an idea and some inventiveness is enough to entertain and emotionally impact viewers.
Indeed, the majority of Homemade accomplishes this – with much of the output being incredibly diverse. There are musicals (Sebastian Leilo’s ‘Algoritmo’) and sci-fis (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s ‘Penelope’), there are intimate home movies, there are shorts made almost entirely over Skype, WhatsApp and drones or with dolls filling in for actors.
The best are the ones where filmmakers (a) zero in on one particular element of Covid life and spin a classical story out of it, (b) use the feeling of life lived under lockdown and repurpose it in an interesting way or (c) give a glimpse into their own and their family’s life under confinement in a way that celebrates humanity. To give the best of the bunch the respect they deserve, five are highlighted below.
‘Voyage Au Bout De La Nuit’, Dir Paolo Sorrentino
Shot in the Italian filmmaker’s house using figurines of the Pope, the Queen and in one hilarious moment The Dude from The Big Lebowski, the short centres on Queen Elizabeth II visiting Pope Francis at the Vatican, where she becomes trapped due to the lockdown in Italy. Cue winking references to Netflix content The Two Popes and The Crown, a surprising amount of sexual tension and a rather touching exploration on the nature of confinement. For those who love Paolo Sorrentino’s cult series The Young Pope, this is a must watch – partly because it’s story feels like an outtake of the series, partly because the voice of the pontiff is cast member on the HBO show Javier Camara.
‘The Lucky Ones’, Dir Rachel Morrison
Acclaimed cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Mudbound, Black Panther) crafts a gorgeous heartfelt visual poem for her five-year-old child, discussing her efforts in trying to spare him the pain of the pandemic by getting him to focus on and remember the good times of living through it – no school, more fun with the family etc. Beautifully written and realised, this is the short that will make viewers misty-eyed.
‘Last Call’, Dir Pablo Larrain
A man in a nursing home thinking he has Covid sets up a video conference with a former girlfriend, who he confesses his never-ending love for. ‘Last Call’ is simultaneously tragic, laugh-out loud funny and unpredictable. It’s perhaps the best example of the Homemade shorts in which the limited resources actually enhance the finished product with the whole film playing out over Skype.
‘Unexpected Gift’, Dir Gurinder Chadha
A look at the Blinded by the Light director’s life under confinement, the usually busy filmmaker uses the unexpected gift of time to reconnect with her kids and grieve for her loved ones lost. Chadha balances the seriousness of Covid-19 with the infectious warmth of her best work – the latter mostly down to her charming family who seem really loving and kind.
‘Ride it Out’, Dir Ana Lily Amirpour
The filmmaker behind The Bad Batch and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night takes a bike ride through LA, giving viewers a glimpse into how lockdown has effected the home of movies. While the footage of an almost deserted Los Angeles is already noteworthy, what elevates ‘Ride it Out’ is Cate Blanchett’s narration. With her voiceover recalling a fairytale – she only refers to Covid as the ‘strange virus’ – the actress adds a mythic quality to Amirpour’s bike ride. It turns her journey into the type of apocalpytic adventure that would be in one of the filmmaker’s genre movies.
Other shorts worth mentioning include Antonio Compos’ menacing moody ‘Annex’, shot with the help of friends Brady Corbet and Christopher Abbott, as well as Johnny Ma and Nadine Labaki’s odes to family. Working behind the camera, as well as acting, Kristen Stewart provides herself a great showcase with ‘Crickets’, which – although too light on plot – does capture the restlessness of life in lockdown.
For all its flaws, watching the Homemade project in its entirety is an incredibly uplifting experience. It shows that even in the darkest and direst of times, artists will find ways to create works of beauty.