Le Cinéma Selection: Review of HOME VIDEOS by Jerrod Carmichael
What this powerfully understated short documentary has to say about families, race and more.
Review by Tober Corrigan — Miniflix Contributor
In this recurring series, we review a film currently playing at Le Cinéma Club, the free short & medium-length curated film site. Then, if relevant, we pair it with a short film currently available in the Miniflix library.
HOME VIDEOS has some explosive talent in front of and behind the screen. Key among them is the director and family-interviewer Jerrod Carmichael, a stand-up comedian and popular comedy personality. Behind the camera is Pawel Pogorzelski, known for lensing modern horror classics Midsommar and Hereditary. On the soundtrack is none other than Tyler, the Creator.
Yet, despite all of the high-wattage creatives who helped bring HOME VIDEOS to life, this a magnificent study in restraint. Extended, frank discussions on race, gender, sex, black culture, infidelity and more play out in various vignettes. This creative trio could have made bombastic decisions with the visuals and editing; they could have tried to “subvert” the documentary elements.
But, instead, they leaned into the conventions of the social realist style, letting the questions and answers between Carmichaeal and family fully play out. While this is certainly a very personal and important project for Carmichael, he wisely defers to his interview subjects for the most revealing and insightful conversations. Pogorzelski frames each encounter to center the woman being interviewed. Outside of one quick glance towards the camera in a group shot, Carmichael stays resolutely in profile through each interview scene, keeping the visual focus and energy on the family member he’s interviewing.
The conversations feel natural and off-the-cuff, but the short film follows a very intentional visual and thematic structure. Starting early in the day, when natural light fills up an adolescent’s bedroom, Carmichael and his niece have a wide-ranging but low-key conversation. Each new scene brings us later in the day, until only some low lamp light shows the faces of Carmichael and his mother, who engage in a very serious, sobering and complicated talk. The film starts with the young and works its way to the matriarch, a woman confident in who she is no matter how much her son presses her on decisions she could make with her life.
One clear throughline exists through all of these conversations with family — and it might not be what you think. While he’s clearly interested in learning from his sister, nieces and mother about what it’s like to be a black woman in 2020, he’s also very clear on pushing back and provoking. He asks his sister how she feels around white people, asks three other family members whether they can still listen to R Kelly and continually puts her faith-led mother through hypothetical scenarios around casual sex and leaving her husband, and his father, behind.
He lets no one off easy, and vice versa. That’s the beauty of this particular family dynamic, and perhaps the beauty of all families. If there’s anything universal about this short film, it’s in the very assured, very comfortable way in which everyone is portrayed, and which everyone displays themselves.
In a world full of reality television and social-media fueled drama, it’s hard to remember that filmed family encounters can still feel this right. We can thank HOME VIDEOS for reminding us of the authenticity of cinema as the enigmatic capturer of everyday life.
Our Miniflix Companion Piece: MAHALIA MELTS IN THE RAIN by Carmine Pierre-Dufour & Emilie Mannering
While being a narrative short and not a documentary, MAHALIA MELTS IN THE RAIN acts as a response to HOME VIDEOS’ call in its understanding of being a Black girl growing up in a white world.
In HOME VIDEOS, Jerrod Carmichael’s niece says “Most of my friends are black or mixed.”
“Why?” Carmichael asks.
“I feel like the personality makes me feel welcome. Sometimes with white people, I don’t know if I feel accepted, but it’s almost like they’re trying really hard to accept me” she responds.
This intense push-and-pull of feeling accepted gets played out in MAHALIA. The title character is a 9-year-old girl in a ballet class who clearly feels like an outsider — and it’s based on some concrete evidence. After rehearsal another girl in class grabs Mahalia’s hair without asking or thinking it a violation of space, then remarks “Your hair is so funny,” before walking away without a thought or concern about the effects of that comment. Yet the camera lingers on Mahalia, clearly affected, clearly feeling isolation and confusion.
In a central scene, Mahalia’s two white girl companions go outside. It’s raining and Mahalia refuses to play outside with the others, in order to keep her hair in place before the photoshoot. The other two girls run with the most primal example of white privilege — the freedom to move about as one wills.
There’s a sobering wisdom and maturity in Mahalia’s character that comes out when she tells one friend standing beside her that she doesn’t have to hang back just to be with her. The tragedy is that Mahalia knows all too well how she is being discriminated against by her friends, whether they realize it not. She understands herself and others in a way that precedes her years. Unlike the other girls who can run freely in the rain, Mahalia ends the film posing like a wax figure for her photoshoot. She is told to smile. Her agency is not her own and the artificiality of what is being demanded of her comes through. We never see her get in the rain. We only see shots of rain on trees, dripping down leaves — then a final shot of Mahalia looking at the outside world from her hazy, fractured view in the backseat.
MAHALIA is a great companion piece to HOME VIDEOS because of the conversations it evokes around young Black bodies and the struggles they face at an age most may not realize.
You can watch HOME VIDEOS until this Friday December 11th, through Le Cinéma Club.
MAHALIA MELTS IN THE RAIN is available now to rent or buy at Miniflix.TV.