I knew as a frontline worker living and working (sometimes barely) during the time of COVID-19, that 76 DAYS was going to be a must see documentary for me at Toronto International Film Festival 2020. I don’t talk frequently of the work that sustains me outside of content creation for this website. Sometimes, I feel okay about that, and other times it feels stifling.
I feel like perhaps I would have so much to share, so much insight to offer, if only someone would ask.
And I think, that this asking and so much more was done by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and their Anonymous sources in Wuhan, the epicenter of the deadly COVID-19 outbreak that has devastated the world as we know it.
76 DAYS deals with life in a Wuhan hospital during the 76 day total lockdown by the Chinese government, and follows physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers as they battle an unseen foe. The desperation and fear depicted with the film is stark and harrowing. From the exhaustion wrought on the barely visible faces of the Chinese doctors and nurses, near hidden underneath layers of PPE, to the despair of the patients imprisoned in the hospital, some of whom are unable to understand why they have been quarantined. The piles of cellular phones and jade bracelets left by the deceased are horrifying reminders of the reality that one day, someone will be sorting through our worldly goods.
But I don’t want to make out like this documentary, which has been picked up for release by MTV Films on December 4, 2020 is all bleak body horror, because it isn’t. Just like a hospital is not defined solely by the death that happens inside its walls, neither is this documentary of human disease. There are moments, moments that show off a stern unwavering resilience – the nurses and doctors writing their favourite foods and drawing cartoons on their PPE – the cartoons smiling and offering a glimpse of personal identity for those bodies cloaked in layers of PPE. There is something to be said here about the human desire to resist being broken, to resist succumbing to despair, even when surrounded by it, and it’s powerful.
We see a young Chinese doctor escorting his discharged patients out into the world, having held their hands and prayed with them, and now seeing them to the door, and waving as they toddle off to their lives post COVID. He waves in his PPE, until he can’t see them anymore, this little forlorn figure, and then he’s back to his ward, back to his patients hooked up to machines so complicated that most people couldn’t even conceive of how they work. This man, who is no older than thirty is saving lives, touching lives, providing a watchful eye to those who suffer, those who pass, and he just keeps right on working, like it’s nothing. Because I guess in a way, it’s just part of his job.
Even the hardened eyes of the ICU charge nurse soften as she cleans the jade bracelet of a deceased COVID patient, and is able to return it to a grieving family member. How many times has she made the phone calls to say that this little grandma and this little grandpa won’t return home? Too many. And she will continue to make those calls, because she has to. Because it’s her job.
This is the starkness of 76 DAYS. It isn’t like ER, or Grey’s Anatomy because it is more like a war. But the armor is a bunny Haz-Mat suit with an anime cartoon on it, and there is something so much more human about these warriors.
76 DAYS is told in an almost found footage nature, a lot of the footage is controversial simply because it reveals a narrative that some in China would like to not be known and thats what makes it so important to watch.
I feel like too often, and especially in times of strife and despair, we can become numbed to the experience of others, this universal experience of suffering and healing, loss and redemption, grief and joy. This is what makes 76 DAYS such a pressing and necessary watch. Bring Kleenex, you’ll need it.
DIAG RATING: 6/6
76 DAYS will be available via MTV FILMS on December 4, 2020.
You can check out more TIFF coverage up from Drunk in a Graveyard:
SCARS (short film)
10 Films to See at TIFF 2020
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