76 Days (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan, China

Documentary film “76 Days”, which was shortlisted for Best Documentary Oscar early in this year, gives us a close look into that urgent 76-day period of lockdown in Wuhan, China, which was the ground zero of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While simply observing a bunch of frontline medical workers busily working at several different hospitals in the city, the documentary vividly captures their constant struggles on the screen, and you will come to admire their considerable professional dedication.

On January 23, 2020, the Chinese government imposed a lockdown on not only Wuhan but also several other surrounding areas for stopping the further expansion of the COVID-19 infection, and the documentary, whose production was started in the following month, opens with a sad and devastating moment involved with one of the medical workers at a local hospital. That person’s father has just died due to COVID-19, and there is nothing that person can do except grieving over what will happen next. Because of that big possibility of infection, the body of that person’s father is thoroughly sealed before eventually taken out of the hospital, and that person is more devastated for not being able to say goodbye to him.

Nevertheless, that person and other medical workers at the hospital have to keep working as before because patients keep coming to the hospital. The capacity of their hospital is constantly limited, so they often have to decide which patient should be allowed into the hospital first, and that naturally leads to a series of conflicts between them and many patients desperately waiting for treatment.

While most of patients admitted into the hospital are fairly cooperative, there is an old dude who often causes headaches for the medical workers of the hospital. Although his symptom is rather mild compared to those very sick patients who may die at any point, he constantly complains and grumbles while frequently refusing to follow the instructions from several medical workers assigned to him, who understandably cannot help but lose a bit of their patience as trying to help him more.

Anyway, there are many other things to be handled in the hospital, and the documentary observes how the medical workers of the hospital often find themselves quite exhausted and frustrated. With their bodies always covered with protection clothes and goggles, they always have to pay attention to the safety of others as well as theirs, and their physical exhaustion is evident whenever we see their steamy goggles.

Despite many obstacles they have to face everyday, they keep trying to help many patients under their care. While some of their patients eventually die to their sadness and frustration, other patients come to be on the way toward recovery, and one of the most poignant moments in the documentary comes from an old, recovered patient showing sincere gratitude to a medical worker assigned to him. Feeling quite better than before, he is ready to be discharged from the hospital, and that is already a big reward for that medical worker in question.

In case of a young lady and her husband, they have been concerned a lot about the medical condition of their baby daughter, who happens to be born not long after she was tested positive. Although both she and her husband are all right for now as finishing their following quarantine period, they still cannot help but worry over their baby daughter, and they are certainly frustrated as their baby daughter’s hospital discharge keeps getting delayed.

Meanwhile, the situation in Wuhan gets improved as time goes by. While citizens are still careful as before, the mood becomes a little relaxed than before, and the same thing can be said about the hospitals in the city. At one point, the medical workers at one of these hospitals become a little playful and relaxed as writing slogans and drawing pictures on their protection clothes, and we sense that their worst time is almost over with spring coming into the city again. On April 8th, the lockdown was finally lifted from Wuhan and its surrounding areas, and we see the whole city mourning for those dead COVID-19 patients for a while.

Although it sometimes feels rather unfocused as merely moving from one episodic moment to another, the documentary still distinguishes itself as a raw and palpable presentation of the lockdown in Wuhan, and co-director/co-producer/writer/editor Hao Wu, who directed the documentary with Weixi Chen and an anonymous person who also served along with Chen as the co-cinematographer of the documentary, handles various human subjects with care and attention. I must point out that it is hard to distinguish one medical worker to another in the documentary due to their thick protection clothes, but their humanity is always felt from their diligence and integrity at least, and it is a bit shame that the documentary does not show more of their personal aspects.

In conclusion, “76 Days” is often powerful whenever it focuses on small but significant human efforts against COVID-19, and you will come to reflect more on millions of medical workers still battling against the virus out there even at this point. To be frank with you, the documentary could benefit from a wider perspective with more information for us, but it still works as a vivid record of the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I think it will often be mentioned along with many other similar documentaries in the future.

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