Reality under construction | Homemade review

By Suzie Beckley

‘Homemade’ is a volume of 17 short films made in quarantine by known and lesser-known directors, writers, actors and people. Curated for Netflix by Chilean director Pablo Larrain and produced by Lorenzo Mieli, this short film anthology portrays the theme of “lockdown.” Amongst a great number of new talent, Kristen Stewart even makes an appearance. 

Crossing continents and different tongues, spanning childhood to old age, depicting the fictional to the documentary, with toes dipped into comedy, thriller and musical, it represents the creativity possible when we are locked inside.

Memories haunt many of the subjects.

Cries of “¡Chile despertó!”, a literal echo of last year’s protests, surround a woman asleep on a bed in Santiago, the country’s capital.

In Glasgow, a fifteen year-old contemplates her approaching birthday; “I don’t think I’m ready to be 16 yet” she reveals, encapsulating the regrets that adolescence can cast upon childhood.

The London-based filmmaker Gurinder Chadha reflects with her children upon the recent loss of her aunt to the virus; “When people die they don’t really die because they live in our hearts, don’t they?”.

A drone flies over Seine Saint-Denis – one of France’s hardest hit areas during the pandemic – documenting the lives of inhabitants from above in shots that are reminiscent of La Haine (1995), a work which similarly centres around social injustice in the suburbs of Paris.

In these memories and ruminations, there is a suggestion that we should look forward rather than back. “We are living through arguably the most globally totalitarian event in human history. How will we feel when we look back on this?” asks David MacKenzie. Capturing the present moment with a camera seems to be one of the only solutions to this question when words cannot suffice. 

The camera also sheds light on the ways in which the mind projects onto this new reality. 

In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s dystopian short we see a dishevelled survivor grapple with all-consuming loneliness, as he prepares meals for an anonymous other whose existence is only suggested. The anxiety and underlying panic that has been aggravated by these new circumstances rises to the surface of the screen in Naomi Kawase and Kristen Stewart’s respective contributions as well.

What was once familiar, the home, has become an incessant source of alienation as the characters struggle to sleep and find themselves double-taking what their eyes and ears are presenting them with; emphasised by the frequent close-ups which almost feel invasive.

Watching these particular excerpts I found my own thoughts and feelings confronting me through someone else’s perspective; post-nap confusion, loneliness, boredom, silence, observing, struggling to fill the time, repetition, restlessness, alienation, dissociation. “I’ve cast out words that may never be seen” one narrator admits, preempting the fate of their own film to never be watched or fully understood, emphasising an overriding sense of isolation. 

There is an irony in reflecting on a collection of reflections.

As I wrote this I found myself on Thesaurus.com looking for synonyms of ‘reflect’, running out of words and recycling the same ones under different forms. Whilst cathartic, I began to compare my own lockdown to these on-screen constructions and how accurately the medium of film can reconstruct such a reality.

Having felt a self-imposed (and unnecessary) pressure to constantly produce in lockdown, it is refreshing to realise these different perspectives, to draw something out of them which feels akin to my own experience, but also see other realities which I don’t understand.

It is important to mention that these shorts are – for the most part – rooted in the privileges of creative capacity, free time, space, and resources which the global majority do not have access to. Not to mention that it is a production of Netflix – speaking broadly, this collection of films is not widely accessible.

Despite these privileges this volume maintains its “homemade” essence throughout, presenting not only a candid approach to filmmaking, but to the act of living itself. 

Even within such diverse approaches these on-screen realities are feasible, and even real in some cases, and it is within these shared feelings and thoughts that whilst socially-distanced, we are brought together in new ways.

In the final film the narrator contemplates the art of reflecting these seismic and inexplicable shifts we are collectively going through. Acting as a quasi-coda to this volume, it is both a reassurance and a warning to those in quarantine.

“Perspectives have changed. Art, in its simplest terms, is just a way to force a new perspective onto something familiar […] Our lives were familiar and now they must be reconstructed.”

It is a candid reminder to learn from this unique situation, to appreciate what we have, and to move forward. 

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