Covid-19 documentary ‘76 Days’ is gripping, compassionate

Ann Hornaday

THE WASHINGTON POST – Miracles abound in 76 Days, a gripping documentary set in Wuhan, China, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Filmed in four hospitals over the course of the city’s lockdown last winter (hence the title), this remarkable chronicle takes viewers into the most intimate precincts of human life and death, as doctors, nurses, patients and desperate family members grapple with a tragedy they can barely fathom.

In one room, a man suffering from dementia continually takes off his mask and tries to make his escape to get back home; in a hallway, a distraught daughter wails for her father, who has just expired. A young couple anxiously wait for news as their baby daughter is being monitored; a nurse quietly goes about the business of returning personal effects of the dead to their families. At one point, in a scene that could have been choreographed by George Romero, hospital staff members desperately bar the door as equally desperate people try to get in.

One of the miracles of 76 Days is its very existence: Filmed by journalist Weixi Chen and an anonymous co-director, with their images edited together by United States (US) based filmmaker Hao Wu, the film is a triumph of investigative commitment and perseverance.

Devoid of muckraking sensationalism, the film instead evolves into something more tactful, and compassionate, as teams of exhausted medical professionals do anything to save their patients’ lives, or at least grace their final moments with gestures of caring and connection.

In Wuhan, China, a doctor comforts a covid-19 patient in a scene from the documentary ‘76 Days’. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

That humanity is another miracle, to be sure. But so is the sheer aesthetic elegance of a film that, despite being caught on the fly and edited just as quickly, possesses admirable visual elegance and quiet, rhythmic composure.

For a film that contains so much pain, suffering and loss, 76 Days is an improbable pleasure to watch, its wrenching stories serving as particularly timely when Americans face another outbreak amid the holiday season.

This is a film about courage, as well as empathy, professionalism and resilience – and it’s a film that embodies those values itself. With luck, viewers will take its cautionary pleas to heart.