What does film look like in the confinements of the pandemic? Netflix’s Homemade, a collection of short films made by directors across the globe, offers one answer. Seventeen shorts make up the anthology, each one with varying genre, style, and duration. The viewing instructions are provided as thus: “Watch These Short Films in Any Order.” Some have suggested a linear viewing due to the visual (aerial shots) and thematic (socioeconomic) similarities of the two shorts that bookend the series; though I’m not sure what is gained from doing so. Considering the chaos of the pandemic, consuming the films in an equally un-orderly manner feels fitting––attempting to glean a sense of closure from the series seems beside the point, though perhaps that impulse is itself rooted in today’s experience of the unprecedented.
In any case, the films can be connected by the constraints imposed by quarantine, offering unique––though privileged, and at times uninteresting––perspectives.
Amongst the more successful shorts are Naomi Kawase’s Last Message, Nadine Labaki and Khaled Mouzanar’s Mayroun and the Unicorn and Natalia Beristain’s Espacios. Kawase’s filmmaking prowess is made clear in her six-minute short, attesting to her ability to capture emotion in sound, image, and rhythm. Found audio, static radio messages in English––a man’s voice delivering questions of the obscure, or spitting out endless numbers––soundtrack the first half of the short. Layered with Japanese audio of the same sort, and an array of sounds––pencil on paper, clacking of soroban beads, frantic footsteps––the soundspace works to dizzying effect. The concurrent bombardment of images communicates an intense paranoia, a feeling common to early (and continued) experiences of the pandemic. Kawase’s short shifts in tone, transitioning to a more peaceful montage, resonating a message of hope: “Cherish those you cherish. Resilience, resilience.” While the moments following the shift are not as efficacious as the former part––as it relies heavily on previously (pre-pandemic) filmed sequences––Last Message is still an impressive effort.
Mayroun and the Unicorn and Espacios share a focus on children, in fact both present children in a parent-free environment. Unsurprisingly, many of Homemade’s films center on children. Both Maryoun and the Unicorn and Espacios excel with this focus. Some shorts like Rachel Morrison’s The Lucky Ones do not, which watches more like tacky stock-images and offers an acute vision of sentimental privilege, proving the anthology’s criticism of tone deafness. Nadine Labaki and Khaled Mouzanar’s short follows their daughter Maryoun, as she acts out a story, inventing a wonderfully creative world. Shot in one-take, the short captures the particular whimsy granted solely to the imaginations of children––indeed, the short is improvised all by Maryoun herself. Natalia Beristain’s Espacios also records her daughter, seemingly alone in her house––showing us solitude from a child’s perspective. Visually, the two aforementioned shorts rely on simplicity, which feels appropriate for films chronicling the pandemic.
Homemade does guarantee explorations of pandemic-era modes of communication––Pablo Larraín’s film is shot on Zoom, and Rungano Nyoni relies entirely on text messages. Others have deftly avoided such lo-fi imagery, like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Penelope, which has (comparatively) high production value––with quality cameras, post-production graphics and more. Homemade is not entirely successful, the collection fluctuates in quality. The anthology, flaws and all, does however hint at what cinema made in the pandemic is and can be.
Bradshaw, Peter. “Homemade review – Kristen Stewart leads Netflix’s lockdown short films.” The Guardian, 29 June 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/jun/29/homemade-review-kristen-stewart-leads-netflix-lockdown-short-films. Accessed 2 November 2020.
Freer, Ian. “Homemade Review.” Empire, 30 June 2020, https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/homemade/. Accessed 2 November 2020.
Kohn, Eric. “‘Homemade’ Review: Netflix Quarantine Anthology Is Pure Filmmaking Talent in Bite-Sized Pieces.” IndieWire, 30 June 2020, https://www.indiewire.com/2020/06/homemade-review-netflix-quarantine-anthology-1234570596/. Accessed 2 November 2020.
Souter, Collin. “Short Films in Focus: Netflix’s Quarantine Compilation Film, Homemade.” Roger Ebert, 7 July 2020, https://www.rogerebert.com/features/short-films-in-focus-netflixs-compilation-film-homemade. Accessed 2 November 2020.