Creators: Pablo Larrain, Lorenzo Mieli, Juan de Dios Larrain
With great isolation comes the great responsibility of judging short film anthologies through a different lens. Let’s start with Homemade, a collection of 17 lockdown-themed short films made by 17 acclaimed artists from across the world. All of them are between 6 to 10 minutes long, shot by family members and actors and directors in quarantine over the last three months. The genre-fluid films range from stream-of-consciousness musings to fictional mini-tales that aim to capture the eye-opening experience of quarantine life.
I suppose the simplistic way of looking at Homemade involves direct comparison. “As with any buffet spread, there are hits and misses” and so on. To be fair, it’s hard to resist measuring one film against another when names like Ladj Ly, Paolo Sorrentino, Pablo Larrain, Naomi Kawase, Sebastian Lelio, Kristen Stewart and Ana Lily Amirpour are featured on our screens. My personal favourite is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s lone-survivor short, starring her husband-actor Peters Saarsgaard as a rough man isolated at a remote Vermont cabin in the mountains. A radio informs us that the third wave of the virus has started to infect the atmosphere, 500 million are dead, the moon is closer to the earth than ever, and the gravitational shift is causing dystopian disruptions. The man’s toaster conks. This is easily the most conventionally cinematic short of the lot, with Gyllenhaal and family making optimal use of their quaint quarantine environment to deliver an eerie look into a (possible) future.
Other standouts include Ana Lily Amirpour’s beautifully introspective snapshot of desolated downtown Los Angeles, which could well be named “A Girl Cycles Home Alone At Noon”. The words of the voiceover – “Art is merely a way of forcing a new perspective onto something familiar” and “Art is a way of surviving” – gain deeper meaning in Cate Blanchett’s Nat-geo-style tone, over the drone-driven images of the masked director biking across an empty city. As if to say: We’re animals today, stripped of our natural habitat. Paolo Sorrentino goes the eccentric way, imagining an airy romance between (miniature action figures of) the Queen of England and the Pope in the director’s Rome house – two public figures who know more than anyone that “isolation is the condition of the spirit”.
But comparison doesn’t tell half the story. The sum of Homemade is greater than its parts. This pandemic has been a humbling leveller, but it has also altered our perspective of consuming art. At some level, it’s oddly comforting to know that everyone – including our favourite celebrities and artists and thinkers – is affected by the same event. Everyone, no matter how big or small, is feeling the pressure of restriction, insecurities and a crippling lockdown of personal expression. As a result, to know how these creators think right now is to imagine how we want to think. At this moment, we feel closer to their art than ever before because we are closer to their life. We are closer to their everyday worries and fears and incoherent ramblings.
In that sense, Homemade, which is largely composed of personal diaries and philosophical reflections, is a rare peek into the restless head of artists, and by extension, a peek into our own minds. When we see Ladj Ly’s drone soaring across the air of an heavily infected French town and peeking at people who are just happy to be seen, we see our neighbours and strangers torn between being infected by the disease, the economy and crushing solitude. When we see Rachel Morrison’s lyrical letter to her five-year-old son – hoping that he remembers his childhood not for its quarantine gloom but for its little pleasures and sunset excursions and endless ice creams (“be grateful, but also be five”) – we see ourselves trying to protect our loved ones from a sense of privilege. When we see Natalia Beristain’s daughter craving for company and trying to keep herself occupied around the house, we see our own kids being denied the chance to say goodbye to an old school year and bouncing off the walls with pent-up frustration.
When we see Sebastian Schipper starring in his own short about a man who is so lonely that his hallucinations create different versions of himself in his apartment, we feel the silence of our own days staring at walls and wondering if we were ever comfortable with our own company. When we see David McKenzie’s teenage daughter getting morose and introspective about her 15-year-old life in Glasgow, we feel for the many childhoods being robbed of precious memories and ambitions. When we see Johnny Ma use his intimate short as a letter to his disapproving Chinese mother about the new life he has chosen, we think of the time we last saw our parents in person and the things we should have told them. When we see Kristen Stewart star in her own short about an insomniac stuck in an irritated haze (“my dreams are dreaming”), we see all our sleepless nights unrestrained by the uniformity of routine. When we see Nadine Labaki’s daughter have a meltdown at midnight in her father’s office, we see the invisible mental health epidemic that is yet to arrive.
And when we see Gurinder Chadha’s kids describe their impatient Punjabi mother in London’s lockdown, we understand why so many of the artists have chosen to turn the camera on their own families for this anthology. They aren’t used to the gift of time. They are not accustomed to sharing space with their kids and parents and partners. Their relationships with their children are new to them, like a story begging to be told, which is why they film them with the curiosity of both a creator and the creator. Homemade is perhaps their way of making a home while making sense of a home. And despite them struggling to retain the identity of an artist, this disarmingly naked series reveals that ordinary living – and ordinary viewers – might be the only art that matters today.