Created by Pablo Larraín, Lorenzo Mieli, Juan de Dios Larraín
Starring Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Peter Sarsgaard
A strange thing has happened to my attention span during lockdown: I am so aware of the wealth of options provided to me by streaming services that if something doesn’t grab me in the first five minutes, I will impatiently move on to something else.
This is the reason why over the course of this pandemic, my viewing diet has consisted mostly of movies that I’ve already seen (their cozy familiarity is the entertainment equivalent of comfort food) and those bite-sized TED-Ed videos that talk about everything from the history of cheese to the myth of Hercules.
And so it happened that while looking for Spider-Man: Far From Home in my Netflix search bar, I also got directed to an anthology called Homemade. The world’s dominant streaming service usually hypes its A-list action movies and its by-country Top 10 viewing options, but Homemade is a testament to Netflix’s ability to surprise.
An initiative from Chilean brothers and producer-director tandem Juan de Dios Larraín and Pablo Larraín (Neruda, Jackie) and Italian producer Lorenzo Mieli (The New Pope), Homemade tapped 17 filmmaking heavyweights and gathered their ruminations on life under lockdown, with the directive that their submissions not violate social distancing measures and range in length from four to 11 minutes.
Homemade is a pleasure to watch, mostly because these short films’ next-to-nothing budgets allow these accomplished filmmakers to let their sensibilities bloom. The films can be roughly categorized into slickly made home movies featuring the directors’ loved ones (Oscar-nominated Capernaum dir
Netflix urges viewers to “watch these short films in any order,” but that could leave you in a quandary as to what episode to dive into first, and then what’s next after that. So what follows is my own programming recommendation, a beginner’s guide populated with one pick from each category, to help you start off your binge with a bang:
Ladj Ly’s Clichy-Montfermeil.
Duh, this is the episode that starts off the anthology, so it’s a no-brainer, right? But it’s not quite that obvious: Its place as lead runner in the Homemade relay has a lot to do with its director’s expansive visuals. A de facto sequel to Ladj Ly’s Oscar-nominated Les Misérables, Clichy-
Gurinder Chadha’s Unexpected Gift.
Cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Black Panther, Mudbound) offers up a touching tone poem in The Lucky Ones, which urges her five-year-old son Wiley not to forget the magic of being a child under extraordinary circumstances. But for the sheer poignant power of showing and not telling, you can’t beat Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha’s Unexpected Gift. This family documentary has no narrative frills—only straightforward scenes of home haircuts gone wrong, parental negotiations over privileges given in exchange for chores, Zoom gatherings to mourn departed relatives—but heart and backbone, it’s got aplenty.
Pablo Larraín’s Last Call.
If you think video calls are fast becoming a filmmaking cliché in the age of COVID, you haven’t seen the Jackie director’s approach to Zoom. An old man (Jaime Vadell) suffering the onset of symptoms sets up a video conferencing call to a former flame (Mercedes Morán) so he can confess his regret and undying passion. What follows isn’t exactly a bittersweet tale of love in the twilight years—in fact, things get downright kinky then rip-roaringly funny. Thank God for directors like Larraín, who prove that you can always think outside the (chat) box.
Kristen Stewart’s Crickets.
If the aforementioned Sebastian Schipper’s Casino is too hallucinatory or metaphorical for you, then go for Crickets, in which the former teen star—at this point, Stewart has built up such a fascinating filmography it’s almost a sin to bring up Twilight again—emotes with increasing urgency at the camera. Prompted by her partner Dylan Meyer’s offscreen queries, Stewart explores the blurring line between waking and dreaming over days spent in quarantine, and the unnerving ability of isolation to trap you inside your thoughts. This is Stewart’s most disconcerting performance since her turn in Olivier Assayas’ ghost story Personal Shopper.
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Penelope.
Easily the most ambitious entry in the bunch. Gyllenhaal imagines a man named Frank (real-life husband Peter Sarsgaard) making a life for himself in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus—a nightmarish extrapolation of COVID—has not only eliminated most of humanity, but also messed up the physics of celestial bodies (the moon looks like it’s on a collision course with Earth) and even interfered with the functioning of toasters. Heralding the debut of a new filmmaking voice, Penelope captures all the nihilistic drama of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia in a fifteenth of its length.
These installments serve as tasting platters for the width and breadth of Homemade’s genius. From here you can go anywhere: Fancy a thriller about a stranger who washes up at the lakeside retreat of a lesbian couple (Antonio Campos’ Annex)? How about a gently funny and nuanced encounter between Queen Elizabeth and Pope Francis told through ceramic figurines (Paolo Sorrentino’s Voyage Au Bout De La Nuit)? There’s even a musical (Sebastián Lelio’s Algoritmo, in which the director of the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman delivers on that film’s musical promise, as an unnamed woman played by Amalia Kassai sings about COVID and pirouettes though her apartment).
But do not, under any circumstance, jump ahead to the last entry, Ana Lily Amirpour’s Ride It Out. There is a reason why it bookends the inaugural episode Clichy-Montfermeil: The film follows the director as she takes a bike ride through an empty downtown Los Angeles, and its expansive visuals echo Ladj Ly’s drone-facilitated narrative. But the thesis of the film lies in this statement from narrator Cate Blanchett: “Art is just a way to force a new perspective on the familiar… Once you have done this, then you are also an artist.”
It’s comforting to know that there are artisans out there who are breaking the boundaries imposed on them by this pandemic—and it’s an inspiration to be told that we can too.
Homemade is currently streaming on Netflix.
Photos from Netflix