STORY: Based on the theme of life in lockdown, Chilean director Pablo Larraín, his brother Juan de Dios Larraín and Italian producer Lorenzo Mieli invite 17 renowned storytellers from across the globe to make short films on the aforementioned theme.
REVIEW: There isn’t a shadow of doubt that the thunder-fast spread of coronavirus has brought the world, and our lives, to a staggering halt. And so when Netflix announced ‘Homemade’, the first thought to pop in my head was that this anthology will be an already exhausted style of filmmaking seen in these unprecedented times — actors on split screen video calls, cutesy home videos of directors sitting comfortably with their families, deserted roads and a bit of gloom. Well, it is all of that, with the exception of some deviating miles away from the central theme and experimenting with bolder, ambitious genres.
The first episode is by Ladj Ly of ‘Les Misérables’ (2019) fame where he captures a young schoolboy Buzz (played by his son, Al-Hassan Ly) sending his drone to Clichy-Montfermeil in Paris’ Seine-Saint-Denis, which is one of the worst-hit French localities. Ly takes us to the rooftops of people chatting away in the middle of the day and then peeps into the windows of others. Just like his debut project, Ly, again, uses drone to depict the plight of the outer world. Unlike other stories that follow, this one has the approach of a realist who doesn’t shy away from highlighting the ramifications of the lockdown as it is. The closing scene pierces through one’s heart as we see women flocking the streets of Clichy-Montfermeil (with kids in tow) to fetch essentials. On the opposite end of this series is Ana Lily Amirpour’s finale episode where a masked Amirpour cycles through the empty streets of Los Angeles. With matter-of-factly narration by Cate Blanchett, it talks about the pandemic’s stern grip over humanity and how “a fresh perspective” is the way forward. Despite the strict play-by-the-book viewpoint, mention of the Hollywood Boulevard and Chinese Theatre and their historical significance, ‘Ride it Out’ feels a bit ambiguous and preachy.
Adding an unpredictably humourous angle to this unforeseen natural disaster are directors Pablo Larraín, Paolo Sorrentino and Rungano Nyoni. Set in the beautiful yet isolated city of Rome, the Queen and the Pope are in dual quarantine, which gradually blossoms into a beautiful companionship (involving skinny dipping and dancing). Convinced that both of them have lost their freedom long ago and are now 'only defined by their titles', they exchange witty one-liners that stay etched in our memory for its sheer boldness. One scene in particular, where they wrestle over what to watch on TV — 'The Two Popes' or 'The Crown' — both by Netflix, is a sure-shot winner. With a serious narrative, Paolo Sorrentino’s PoV of the pandemic would have been audacious to some. But the director has humanised the two iconic figures who, for the first time in their lives, were having fun.
Pablo Larraín’s tale is that of a promiscuous old man dying of the virus who makes “one last call” to many of his former flames with an expressionless nurse in attendance, perhaps with the hope that at least one would fall for his well-crafted monologue. Some do. But the last one explodes and curses him to die a lonely death. For a brief moment, the banter between the oldies makes one forget that death by this deadly virus can be painful. Larraín wins.
Rungano Nyoni’s take on a modern day bi-racial British couple breaking up and then eventually reconciling whilst living in the “tiniest apartment in the world” is through frank conversations between both the sexes. Told entirely via sleavy yet honest texts and scandalous emoticons, Nyoni tackles the glaring issue of couples spending too much time together that may or may not have ended well for some. It is every millennial's delight and has obviously been inspired from the bizarre break-up stories we have heard and read over the last three months.
Kristen Stewart plays herself in a psychological thriller where she is grappling with insomnia and cannot tell dreams from reality. With her partner Dylan Meyer lending able support from behind the camera (asking all the difficult questions), Stewart shows promise as a writer and director. Her mostly close-up shots are hundred-emotions-per-second and give an insight into the mind of an individual who is slowly but surely losing her sanity to boredom and isolation. The film is a trailer to what lies ahead of Stewart as a storyteller; a great head start in the right direction.
Antonio Campos’s lesbian partners are frightened by the entry of a mysterious Spanish-speaking man who washes up at the nearby beach next to their home. Shot under seven minutes, Campos tells a riveting psychological thriller and leaves the viewer craving for more. Under normal circumstances, this story could have been a full-blown commercial feature film.
In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s parallel world, a recluse is leading a monotonous life in the woods of Vermont with nothing but an old radio and spotty network to fall back on. The reporter on radio says that an apocalypse is out to kill humanity and that men must fend for themselves. Gyllenhaal’s actor husband Peter Sarsgaard delivers a brilliant performance as an isolated man fulfilling his desire to both be departed from the madness of the materialistic world and also participate in it.
Naomi Kawase focuses on the Japanese culture’s practise of self-restraint in the times of pandemic through the eyes of a curious young boy. His introspection on the true value of human life and its purpose on Earth render a fresh perspective on the subject, but at five minutes and some seconds, Kawase only manages to touch the periphery of what seems like a topic that needed in-depth handling.
Through Netflix, Rachel Morrison has left behind an endearing video-diary to her five-year-old son Wiley urging him to enjoy the little things in life and be grateful for what he has and not rue things beyond his control. Through beautifully shot family tapes and adorable pictures of her two sons, Morrison echoes the worry of every mother who fears her child would only remember the bad and leave the good that’s come out of home quarantine. Natalia Beristáin imagines a life without anyone to look after her young daughter and how the adorable girl fends for herself as thousands of lives on the streets crumble under the uncertainties of COVID-19. For a first-time actress, baby Beristáin is straight on point and brownie points for those blank expressions giving a sense of despair and hopelessness without trying too hard.
Bored and lonely, Sebastian Schipper envisions three versions of himself sailing through his days of complete solitary. The film — conceptualised and shot by Schipper himself — is quirky and captures the essence of absolute mundanity of life in lockdown. On the other hand, David Mackenzie showcases the life of his teenage daughters adopting the fly-on-a-wall technique where his girls both confide in and flirt with the camera. The lo-fi videos and some cleverly edited footage give this short story a documentary feel. We dig. Nadine Labaki and Khaled Mouzaner’s daughter channels her inner frustration through a monologue in a Utopian land, where the world is getting unpredictable and hair-raising with each passing minute. The end credits say that Mouzaner shot his daughter without any pause during her playtime and if that’s true (which we are sure is) then the young girl is already fantasy’s favourite child.
Two directors — Johnny Ma and Gurinder Chadha — make this lockdown visual scrapbook all about family regrets, redemption and happy endings. Ma’s story is about his mother and how they never express their love for one another, with him blaming his Chinese upbringing for the lack of ability to display emotions. He knows his ‘mother does not watch Netflix’, but still, he wants her to know that he understands she cannot accept his newfound family and revels in the fact that they both like dumplings. Ma’s ode to his Maa is a total tearjerker, served with a sweet family secret in the end. Gurinder Chadha is grief-stricken in the beginning but her kids, who once loathed the fact that she is ‘always filming them’, comfort her as the pandemic gives them the much-needed family time to bond over their Indian heritage and mutual love for the departed clan members. Both Ma and Chadha stick to phone-made videos and let their emotions free-flow like water in a well. Their stories, however mainstream in this snapshot universe, work because of the universality of the theme they bring to light — pining for one's loved ones.
The only musical in this anthology is by Sebastián Lelio, who maintains a feel-good vibe throughout his eight-minute film on a woman (played by Amalia Kassai) singing to her heart’s content and dancing on rooftops while going about her daily life and carrying out the routine household chores. Lelio’s muse takes it upon herself to make this an easy-on-eyes watch. And she delivers.
‘Homemade’ claims that these acclaimed filmmakers have shot these out-of-the-box, often shocking, small-format movies adhering to the rules and guidelines imposed by their respective governments. While this might be true, they sure have gone to painful lengths to get the post production right: from editing to colour-correcting, it is glaringly evident (and the credits agree) that a huge portion of 'Homemade' has received world-class finishing touches.
True, these movies are a reflection of the collective genius of the highly talented directors’ creativity but, going strictly by the theme it originally promises to showcase, ‘ Homemade’ is, by all means, a rich person’s version of the global lockdown — glossy, privileged and made to impress. Barring a few, most of it has an evasive approach; something that a common man on the street wouldn’t relate to. But, then again, a common man on the street has far more important things to worry about and is likely to forgive.