Netflix's new lockdown anthology series collects shorts from filmmakers around the world, including Kristen Stewart and Paolo Sorrentino. But how do they compare?
Netflix's latest anthology series, Homemade, is the brainchild of Ema filmmaker Pablo Larrain and his brother, Juan de Dios Larrain, created to showcase the “personal, moving stories that capture our shared experience of life in quarantine.”
The idea was simple: confined (mostly) to houses and apartments due to the ongoing pandemic, a group of filmmakers – from the likes of Larrain himself, to Kristen Stewart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino – had to utilise whatever they had at their disposal to define the sense of isolation in unique and interesting ways.
The resulting 17 short films are a mixed bag – some more inspired than others, but all proof that creativity can thrive in the smallest or most limited of spaces. Here's our ranking, from worst to best, though it must be said that none of these shorts are without merit…
17. “The Lucky Ones” – Rachel Morrison (Los Angeles, USA)
Given how integral they're likely to have been to many a lockdown experience, it's no surprise that a large selection of the filmmakers involved in Homemade opted to use their kids in their shorts. Rachel Morrison is one such filmmaker. Here she frames her own film as a letter of hope about the future, as read to her daughter, Wiley, making use of sun-kissed photography and a sincere voiceover that borders on the cloying. It's not bad, exactly, but just a little on the indulgent side.
16. “Algorithm” – Sebastian Lelio (Santiago, Chile)
Stir crazy or what? This musical short from Gloria director Sebastian Lelio is a curious object – not lacking in energy or enthusiasm, just odd. As an actress, encased in a blanket, sings about privilege and quarantine and slinks about a house, rubbing her face on the furniture, not quite in time with the music, the whole thing quickly begins to grate. We must draw the line at a woman sitting in a box, I think.
15. “May Round and the Unicorn” – Nadine Labaki & Khaled Mouzanar (Beirut)
Watching this, one might be struck by the idea that Nadine Labaki and Khaled Mouzanar simply filmed their young daughter improvising a routine for five minutes and called it a day. Surely not, though? But then a disclaimer at the end informs us that yes, that's exactly what happened. Who is “May Round” and what is her relation to the “Unicorn?” This short won't tell you, that's for sure.
14. “No Border” – Naomi Kawase (Nara, Japan)
An odd one, this, like 28 Days Later crossed with a dream from a Haruki Murakami novel. Underscored by strange voices on the soundtrack and fuzzy camerawork, it rings with apocalyptic intensity. What's going on? Your guess is as good as mine. But the end of the world, when it comes, makes for an oddly soothing experience against the backdrop of beautiful Nara.
13. “Spaces” – Natalia Beristáin (Mexico City, Mexico)
Spaces sees tiny Jacinta, daughter of filmmaker Natalia Beristáin, left to her own devices in their family home. She's making eggs like a pro one minute and banging her leg and breaking down into tears the next. Not much else happens, but there's something nice about watching a small child hunkering down and just getting on with it… pandemic be damned!
12. “Nnex” – Antonio Campos (New York, USA)
We've all seen horror films that cover up a lack of story with weird edits and sinister musical cues. Simon Killer director Antonio Campos' short follows suit. Christopher Abbot (Charlie from Girls) is the strange man who turns up at a family home in New York and may or may not be planning to slip a snake into somebody's bed. It's atmospheric, but huh? The fact it's shot entirely using phones is impressive, though.
11. “Mother” – Johnny Ma (Jalisco, Mexico)
Chinese-Canadian director Johnny Ma pays tribute to his allegedly conflicted relationship with his mother in a short we're told, via voiceover, takes place during “day 50 of quarantine.” Narratively slippery, this one earns bonus points because of the sheer number of cats it manages to factor into its runtime, and also because it's the only film to contain a dumpling recipe at the end.
10. “Journey to the End of the Night” – Paolo Sorrentino (Rome, Italy)
Paolo Sorrentino is best known for his films The Great Beauty and Youth. Here he utilises a collection of figurines to tell the love story between the Pope and Queen Elizabeth II (?). What begins as merely flirty, though, quickly grows into something unexpectedly raunchy. At one point “The Dude” from The Big Lebowksi – also in figurine form – shows up and you begin to wonder what it is Sorrentino has been smoking in lockdown.
9. “Couple Split Up in Lockdown LOL” – Rungano Nyoni (Lisbon, Portugal)
Somebody had to touch on it, didn't they? Rungano Nyoni's text chat-inspired short finds us observing the conversations of a feuding couple as lockdown begins to get the better of them. Friends provide a Greek chorus to their fallout, via text group, whilst a lost dog facilitates the heartwarming make-up. Why are there so many references to the “Karen” meme, though? And 11 minutes is a bit too long to sit and watch text conversations playing out.
8. “Primrose Hill” – Gurinder Chada (London, England)
Essentially this is a little video log about how the lockdown experience has treated filmmaker Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) and her family, who live in London's Primrose Hill. The short offers up a shapeless but charming look at their coming to terms with the death of multiple family members during the pandemic, and paints an affectionate picture of their bonding during lockdown.
7. “Ferosa”- David Mackenzie (Glasgow, Scotland)
Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie (Outlaw King) also turns to his own family unit to explore the pandemic – though namely the task falls to his daughter, Ferosa, who we observe around the house, in work and play, trying to make sense of the world. The best bits have her talking to her unseen and unheard father, who is just off camera. “I don't think I'm ready to be sixteen,” she says quietly, the weight of her words striking an unexpected emotional chord that transcends the lockdown theme.
6. “Casino” – Sebastian Schipper (Berlin, Germany)
Getting anything done in lockdown is hard enough. But what happens when there are three of you trying to get stuff done? Sebastian Schipper's (Victoria) neat little comedy begins like the most generic of quarantine shorts, with a man simply going through the motions of his day, but quickly reveals unexpected layers, making use of hairstyles (and a haircut) to tell an enigmatic tale that brilliantly captures the claustrophobia of isolation.
5. “Penelope” – Maggie Gyllenhaal (Vermont, USA)
A virus has wiped out hundreds of millions of people in Maggie Gyllenhaal's backwoods drama, where a man – played here by her husband Peter Sarsgaard – has sought refuge in nature and listens to the fall of humanity over a radio. But this guy's biggest problem isn't the end of the world; it's that his toaster isn't working properly. “Gravitational dysfunctions” are causing fish to appear on the land, until a mysterious package arrives that seems to offer some hope. None of this quite explains why there's a sex scene involving a tree.
4. “Crickets” – Kristen Stewart (Los Angeles, USA)
Imagine a film in which a camera is pushed right up close to Kristen Stewart's face and simply left there to capture every movement and every micro-expression. That is Crickets – the restless, anxiety-drenched film she also directed, and perhaps the most visually arresting of all the shorts included here. Is Stewart going mad in quarantine? Is she playing herself or a character? Is she gearing up to direct a feature of her own? Will she ever get some sleep? This hazy lockdown story of Los Angeles ennui poses dozens of questions and is all the better for avoiding the answers.
3. “Clichy-Montfermil” – Ladj Ly (Paris, France)
So simple, so effective. We observe a young boy in Paris' Clichy-Montfermil neighbourhood schooling from home – reading, studying, staring out the window. But then he powers up his drone and takes flight, whisking us through the air, high above the city – a nod to Ly's own feature film Les Miserables. The act of watching the drone soar is genuinely cathartic, like being temporarily freed from your own lockdown space. Blink and you'll miss the young man who takes the opportunity to stick his finger up at the camera.
2. “Ride it Out” – Ana Lily Amirpour (Los Angeles, USA)
Cate Blanchett channels her inner David Attenborough for this Los Angeles-set short, which sees the filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour taking a bike ride around a deserted Hollywood in the dazzling sunlight – the whole journey captured using drone photography. And what a weird sight it is to see the usually packed out streets so empty and without life, with none of the city's associated vibrancy or glamour. Blanchett's narration verges on the bombastic, but the visuals are an instant balm for the quarantine blues.
1. “Last Call” – Pablo Larrain (Santiago, Chile)
Homemade creator and filmmaker Pablo Larrain channels the “Zoom” phenomenon in this funny short, the best of the bunch. An old man makes a video call to a lost love, admitting his feelings and regrets for a different life, narrowly missed. How sweet, you think – at least until Larrain piles on the twists and steers the narrative in unexpected, comic directions. Contains a sex reference to a “salty finger,” which might just be cinema's first.
Homemade and all 17 shorts ranked here are now available to stream on Netflix.