76 Days

 

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A humanitarian document recording Wuhan's response to Covid 19.

 
76 Days

 

76 days is the length of time that the city of Wuhan in China was in lockdown between January and April 2020. This documentary record of that period has no commentary and does not need it. That's because the purpose of this film is to show how the staff in four hospitals rallied to the needs of the people. Other documentarists may in due course seek to question how the coronavirus developed there and to consider the rights and wrongs of the decisions taken by the authorities, but 76 Days emerges as a work that brings home to the viewer the quality of the hospital staff and not least their deeply humane attitude towards the patients who came flooding in. Consequently, audiences in Britain will respond to this film with the same sense of admiration for the Chinese portrayed here as they have already displayed for those in the NHS.

 

I understand that initially filming in the hospitals of Wuhan was approved to some extent but that when the official attitude changed the work went on discreetly. Given those restrictions as well as the conditions of crisis under which the film was shot this might easily have been a work that was understandably rough and ready. In the event, however, 76 Days is splendidly photographed and its three directors, Hao Wu, Weixi Chen and a third anonymous contributor, have done a fine job. Wu's further contribution as the film's editor is particularly striking. The piece is never showy in any way but, by refusing to dwell too long on any scene, it has a natural flow.

 

While this documentary is a day-to-day chronicle, it yet contains certain elements within it which provide a thread of continuity. A head nurse, Yang Li, becomes a central figure and at intervals the film returns to an elderly patient, a fisherman in his seventies, who is confused as to what is going on and keeps insisting that he should be allowed to go home. Among other patients present, an elderly woman who ultimately dies is seen several times and, late on and briefly, we follow a young couple who, having just come out of quarantine, arrive at the hospital to collect their baby daughter. But for the most part it is only the passing of the months that gives a certain shape to the piece and, putting on my critic's hat, I do feel that at 93 minutes the film lasts slightly longer than is desirable given the lack of any real climax. However, in total contrast to TV reports about those suffering from Covid, 76 Days has the kind of forceful immediacy that marked the 2019 documentary about Aleppo, For Sama, albeit that that film's storyline contained developments that provided more variety than one finds here. But these are minor reservations of little importance for 76 Days is akin to For Sama in being a historical document of undoubted value. And, even if it lacks a narrative possessed of a natural climax, it does end with a strikingly apt coda which makes for a satisfyingly strong close.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Yang Li and other inhabitants of Wuhan, China.

 

Dir Weixi Chen, Hao Wu and an anonymous director, Pro Jean Tsien and Hao Wu, Screenplay Hao Wu, Ph Anonymous and Weixi Chen, Ed Hao Wu.

 

76 Days LLC/Ford Foundation-Just Films/Esquire China/XTR Film Society/Sundance Institute-Dogwoof.
93 mins. USA/China. 2020. Rel: 22 January 2021. Available on BFI Player. Cert. 12.