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Review: 76 Days (2020)

76 Days (2020)

Directed by: Weixi Chen and Hao Wu and Anonymous

Premise: A documentary shot at four different hospitals in Wuhan, China as the city was under lockdown in response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Frontline healthcare workers treat their patients and take precautions to prevent spread of the disease.

What Works: 76 Days places the viewer in the middle of a hospital at the height of a pandemic. This documentary was filmed over several months in four different hospitals as the city of Wuhan was under lockdown and it captures the exhaustion and anxiety of being on the frontline of a pandemic. 76 Days’ greatest strength is its rawness. The film was shot with handheld cameras and follows hospital staff as they treat their patients. The filmmakers capture the mechanics and protocols of a hospital in the middle of a public health crisis. We’re witness to the way hospital staff attempted to minimize contact with the disease and the extraordinary disinfection measures. But those procedures have a human element and one of the narrative threads follows a couple giving birth to their first child. The father is unable to be with the mother during labor and after the baby is born they are both required to stay in quarantine, separated from their child. This is an unsparing document of what happened, full of grief and angst but presented in a straightforward way that maintains an even tone. The picture is reminiscent of war documentaries like Restrepo in the way it documents the professionalism and everyday heroism of the healthcare workers but also the constant threat of death and the vigilance required. Much of the documentary involves the hospital staff comforting or talking down irate patients and their families and 76 Days reveals how healthcare is as much about working with people and their anxieties and eccentricities as it is about medicine. This is cinema as a visceral experience and 76 Days conveys the grind of healthcare work as well as the human toll of the pandemic on patients and healthcare workers. This is far from the clean, glossy drama found in Grey’s Anatomy and ER.

What Doesn’t: 76 Days’ observational style serves the documentary well but it comes with limitations. There are no cutaways to interviews nor does the film include narration that would explain what’s going on. Viewers ought to be able to piece together what they’re seeing but 76 Days cannot offer much in the way of depth or context. The observational style also prevents us from getting to know any of the people involved in a personal way. Most of the healthcare workers are wrapped up in personal protective equipment and are almost impossible to distinguish from one another.

Bottom Line: 76 Days offers an unvarnished look at healthcare in a pandemic. Its primary value is as a time capsule and the footage will be of interest in years to come as a way for viewers to grasp the COVID-19 pandemic. But contemporary audiences ought to find interest in the film’s humanizing portrait of life in a health crisis. 

Episode: #844 (March 21, 2021)