Self-isolation. Quarantine. Social Distancing. In pre-COVID times, we used these words sparingly, or not at all. Social distancing, for example, is a new phrase born out of the pandemic. How have these months, under lockdown, impacted us? Homemade, a Netflix original, invites a bunch of well-known filmmakers from around the world to tell us what this experience has meant to them, in a series of shorts.
The films, all under 15 minutes, come from intensely personal spaces. The distinction between sleeping and being awake has blurred so heavily that a zombie-like state is the only one many of us know, our eyes turned to raw, gritty slits watching too much Netflix (so meta, haha). Kristen Stewart’s unmade, unvarnished, yet-so-expressive face captures this half-wakeful-half-not state perfectly. Maggie Gyllenhall gives us a protagonist who is listening to radio broadcasts which measure the deadly march of the virus across not just the earth, but the entire solar system. Shiverrr.
Johnny Ma’s little film underscores big emotions. Thorny relationships with loved ones, especially one’s mother, leaves us shaky. The ritual of learning to sing a song for one’s mother, and making dumplings in her honour, is the filmmaker’s way of reaching out. Ironically, he says, he doesn’t know if his mum will ever know, because she doesn’t watch Netflix, snarkily referencing those people who post their not-on-social-media mothers’ photos on social media and write fulsome tributes to them.
Deep familial ties are evident in Gurinder Chadha’s short, which shows her spending quality time with her two children and husband. It’s a time of loss (losing beloved family members) and replenishment (teaching the kids verses from Gurbani). Children, childhood, memories are also the theme of the films directed by Rachel Morrison and Nadine Labaki-Khaled Mouzanar, the first channelling nostalgia and a wish for hope, the other giving us a frightening glimpse of a little girl spending time all by herself, saying, ‘please I’ve had enough of this. Get me out of here, now!’ Yes, her and me and the rest of us.
It’s interesting to catch familiar flourishes in the shorts of filmmakers whose works we know: Ladj Ly’s drone-in-the-air recording an aerial view of the most affected parts of Montfermeil, is a direct reminder of his Les Miserables: the people standing in line for free food are the most underprivileged of the area, just as the characters in the celebrated 2019 Cannes feature were. Another film, by Ana Lily Amirpour, uses an aerial view of Los Angeles, and an Earnest Hemmingway-like spare commentary about a girl riding a bicycle (This is a girl. This is her home. This is her bike) down the near-empty roads of the city, to emphasise just how drastic the change has been: a bustling, car-honking, filled-with-people road is a thing of the past. It also exhorts us, earnestly, to get a fresh perspective on things, and how ‘lives must be reconstructed.’
A couple of shorts are edgy and funny. Pablo Larrain’s Last Call is one which had me laughing my head off: an old man uses Zoom to connect with an old flame, and as he recounts the ways in which he loved her, you are struct by the expressionless face of his lady, which basically says, yeah, tell me another. Turns out, he’s still being as much of a heel as he must have been in his glory days, jumping from one woman to another. She calls him out as a liar, saying ‘the virus was created for people like you, long live the virus’. Ouch. Another uses a series of text messages, in place of actual conversation, to show a couple unravelling: you chuckle, even as you feel bad for the two. Being confined, not being able to let off steam, can be especially hard for people with fractious relationships.
Not all 17 shorts work as well as the others. A few don’t really move very far away from the banal: how significant can one dish of spaghetti, split over several days, be? But almost every one tells us that for a filmmaker, having a phone and an idea, and the will to get out of bed, can be enough. While filmmaking is such a collaborative activity which requires constant physical presence, creativity can flower even in the most inimical conditions. And finally, how in these difficult times, films which share real, lived experiences, can heal.
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