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#TIFF20 Review: 76 Days (TIFF Docs)

September 17, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Credited to directors Hao Wu and Weixi Chen, as well as another filmmaker who remains anonymous, 76 Days is a ripped from the headlines documentary made up entirely of candid footage that was shot in Wuhan, China earlier this year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The film is named for the number of days – spanning from January 23rd to April 8th – that the city of eleven million people, where the virus originated from, was put under strict lockdown by the Chinese government, in a desperate attempt to stop its spread.

The cameras allow us to become silent observers to what is unfolding in the city’s hospitals, following along as frontline staff struggle with overcrowding, and trying to provide enough beds for sick patients who are literally banging on the doors to be let in. In the haunting opening scene, a woman, dressed head to toe in personal protective equipment, breaks down and cries in the hospital as she is told that she can’t see her dying father one last time. The nurses provide comfort in the midst of restraining her.

We watch as doctors and nurses rush in and out of emergency rooms, tending to and trying to calm the nerves of sick patients. A few of the same subjects keep appearing throughout the film. We follow an elderly grandfather who is confused and keeps trying to leave the hospital, despite not being able to, as well as a pregnant woman who tests positive and must have her baby delivered via C-section. Through this, the film is able to draw upon a motif of death and new life.

This is obviously a tough film to watch, and many scenes are upsetting and anxiety-inducing, but it is also strikingly photographed, and features some incredible cinematography. It unfolds with a sense of immediacy that is unique to the current moment, while also holding great value as a historical document of the COVID-19 pandemic from the frontlines. At its best, 76 Days serves as a powerful and incredibly raw portrait of what the world has been faced with in 2020.

I must also point out the bitter sense of irony to the fact that 76 Days is the only physical screening that I have been able to attend during this year’s TIFF, with the festival having been stripped down and mostly digitized due to the pandemic. I mention this because the experience of seeing the film today at TIFF Bell Lightbox, where seats have been reserved to keep patrons at a safe distance from each other and masks are required while watching the film – offering a constant reminder of the global realities of this pandemic – felt quite surreal.

Public Screenings:

Monday, September 14th – 5:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Monday, September 14th – 5:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Tuesday, September 15th – 6:00 PM at Bell Digital Cinema (Online for 24 Hours)

Thursday, September 17th – 4:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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