76 Days

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

76 Days
"Across this film, two dominant themes emerge - the overwhelming nature of the situation and the importance of small acts of kindness." | Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

There's no doubting which news story has dominated the news coverage virtually everywhere around the globe in 2020 - the Covid-19 pandemic. There will, no doubt, be a clutch of documentaries in due course about the various elements of the disease from a raft of countries, but this fly-on-the-wall documentary which charts the first 76 days of the epidemic in Wuhan, China, is as good a place to start as any - particularly if you're looking for an insight into the sheer dedication of health service professionals around the world.

Weixi Chen, Hao Wu, and a third, anonymous, co-director waste no time in thrusting us into the intensity of the hospital following the city's lockdown on January 23. Death has already come knocking and the first heart-rending moments of the film show staff trying to calm an inconsolable woman rocked by the death of her father. The cruelties of the disease are already acutely apparent - she is unable to touch him or spend time coming to terms with his passing, while, elsewhere, a crowd of sick people clamour at the locked door of the ward to be admitted, with staff, again, attempting to maintain order in the face of what is an evidently overwhelming situation. Even those not dealing directly with patients face stress, as evidenced by someone informing next of kin, by phone, about the death of a relative.

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This sets the tone for a film which doesn't hold back on the grim realities of a disease about which so little was known at the time. Overstretched staff, covered head to toe in layers of PPE do their best to offer help and comfort to the sick - gloves inflated with the words "Get well soon" on them put where a patient can see them while the staff names, written on their PPE to help them be recognised, are also soon accompanied by drawings and phrases - "Clay pot chicken; I miss you" - in a bid to lift spirits. "Everyone, conserve your energy." the medics are told, but you wonder how that can be possible in the face of such an onslaught. There's also a sense of how other health situations both impact and are impacted by the outbreak - a woman rushed for a C-section alone because her husband isn't permitted in, her baby immediately spirited to a different hospital for protection, or the elderly man whose condition, and the staff stress levels, are exacerbated by his dementia. In a glimmer of hope for life beyond the illness, a tiny baby, dubbed "little penguin", is tended for in an incubator as her anxious parents quarantine before being able to go and fetch her.

Across this film, two dominant themes emerge - the overwhelming nature of the situation and the importance of small acts of kindness. Even in the face of so much death and gruelling shifts, we continually see the medics going the extra mile, whether it's simply stopping by a bed to hold someone's hand or doing their best to return disinfected belongings to a loved one, even though it's technically against protocol. These gestures have an immediacy, as does the poignancy of the boxes full of personal affects, waiting to be claimed as a nurse rings family after family, or of a phone bearing 31 messages that it's recipient will never be able to read.

While this is, in many ways, a gruelling watch emotionally and one that, inevitably, feels a bit scattershot in places, it also affirms universal ideas of humanity pulling together in the face of adversity. As the air raid sirens raise in a collective cry of grief as the lockdown was about to be lifted in April, it feels like a wail of mourning that could stretch across the world.

Reviewed on: 03 Nov 2020
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Filmed in Wuhan, China by an independent crew, 76 Days covers the length of the city’s lockdown for Covid-19.

Director: Weixi Chen, Hao Wu, Anonymous

Writer: Hao Wu

Year: 2020

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

DOC NYC 2020

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