There may come a time when the words “So, my lockdown creative project…” will be enough to clear a room in seconds. “Oh, how fascinating,” we’ll all cry, “tell me less.” Still, Homemade, a collection of 17 quarantine-inspired film shorts by eminent international directors and actors, curated by a team headed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Jackie), had plenty of intriguing moments, not to mention ingenuity in getting around social distancing restrictions with iPhones, computers and drones.
Sometimes it was all a tad Home Movies of the Rich and Famous or Privileged Creative Accidentally Knocks FaceTime On. Kristen Stewart’s lockdown-meltdown piece (“I feel like my dreams are dreaming”) stank like a bad perfume advert (Self-Indulgence by Calvin Klein?). I much preferred the films that attempted to be stories, including Paolo Sorrentino’s dolls of the Queen and the pope flirting and musing (“I’ve been in lockdown for 94 years”), Larraín’s rogue ringing up of past lovers, and Antonio Campos’s wonderfully gothic vignette featuring naked, silent interlopers.
Italy's Frontline was a poem of suffering and death, but it was also a celebration of courage and an affirmation of life
Elsewhere, Gurinder Chadha movingly documented how her family lost her mother just before lockdown. Ana Lily Amirpour cycled around a deserted Los Angeles to a Cate Blanchett voiceover. Maggie Gyllenhaal put her husband, Peter Sarsgaard, into a kind of intellectual disaster movie with fish falling out of the sky. Ladj Ly sent a drone around Montfermeil, just as he did for Les Misérables. Bar the occasional smothered yawn, Homemade proved to be a lucky dip of insights and amusements. All those involved had donations made in their honour to the Netflix emergency fund for those affected in the TV and film industry.
David France’s Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge was a stunning, important film about the mass persecution of LGBTQ people in the Russian republic of Chechnya. LGBTQ men and women are being hunted, imprisoned, tortured and “disappeared”. Harrowing “trophy videos” depicted beatings, rapes and murders. Such is the depth of homophobia in Chechnya that citizens are encouraged to murder gay family members in honour killings. The smirking ripostes to allegations by the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, said it all: “This is nonsense. We don’t have such people here. We don’t have gays”, and “[LGBTQ people] made it up. They are devils… They are subhuman”.
France (director of How to Survive a Plague and The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson) followed brave activists trying to get desperate, terrified people out of the region. Even then, France protected their identities using deepfake technology, replacing their features with those of volunteers. The heroic Maxim Lapunov was shown becoming the first to publicly accuse the Chechen authorities. His call for an investigation was denied in Moscow (what a surprise) and he has taken it to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg. Going public for the first time, Lapunov’s deepfake mask dissolved to reveal his real face. Just one unforgettable moment among many in this shocking and vital documentary.
Christ, what happened to The Sinner? The third series was deranged, and not in its usual (good) way. I have a lot of time for Bill Pullman’s shambling, dishevelled Detective Ambrose, even though he has a tendency to mumble his lines as though he has just been roughly woken from a deep sofa-nap. However, even he couldn’t compensate for the plot: sub-Nietzschean Ubermensch drivel about nihilism, living as others dare not, yak yak. (Note to self: check if Dominic Cummings was a script adviser on this.)
Matt Bomer did his best as the “troubled” murderer, but, curiously, I remained more “troubled” about the people he and his creepy mate (Chris Messina) thought deserved to be terrorised and offed so they could feel “alive”. The result was a pretentious, homicidal Fight Club for the darknet generation. If anyone is interested, there are plenty of Ubermensch-wannabes on regular social media: they’re easily identifiable because they have an unfortunate condition where they can’t stop blurting out the word “sheeple”.
In the documentary Italy’s Frontline: A Doctor’s Diary, directed by Sasha Joelle Achilli, cameras followed A&E doctor Francesca Mangiatordi for three months during the pandemic in the badly affected northern city of Cremona. When Mangiatordi wasn’t begging for hospital beds and oxygen tanks, describing stressed, overworked colleagues as “walking ghosts”, or trying not to infect her family (“Why didn’t you become a house painter?” joshed her husband gently), she was making mind-spinning life-and-death decisions (help a 35-year-old or an 85-year-old?). “When you remove someone’s dignity, you leave them with nothing,” observed a heartbroken Mangiatordi.
As much as the film was unremittingly bleak, a poem of suffering and death, it was also a celebration of courage and an affirmation of life. When 18-year-old Mattia survived against the odds, all the Cremona medics were touchingly elated.
I believe it’s now against the law to review a comedy featuring a modern woman without mentioning Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Fleabag. In the BBC Three pilot Behind the Filter, star (and co-writer with Guardian journalist Harriet Gibsone), Phoebe Walsh deals with the “F-issue” instantly, with her character, Ruby, muttering: “Phoebe Waller-Bridge” in her sleep. Later, Ruby masturbates. Twice! Though not about Waller-Bridge, which would really have been something. Ruby is a directionless, mid-20s, Instagramming, woke-curious hipster casualty in festival-ready tangerine sunglasses, who lives with her parents (Pippa Haywood and Dominic Coleman) and lodger Abdul (Omar Malik). There were some promising moments in this 15-minute taster: not least Ruby’s inevitable and pointless podcast Feminism in your Ears. More please.