TIFF 2020

76 Days review – eerie look at the start of the pandemic

This brave chronicle of four Wuhan hospitals battling the first cases of COVID-19 makes for bleak but essential viewing

In the press notes for 76 Days, a new documentary made with unprecedented access to four hospitals in the first Central Chinese city affected by the coronavirus pandemic – and the first to lock down – there is an ominous warning to critics. After months of editing and correspondence with his two co-directors (one of whom is anonymous), producers still feared “government interference” in the event that writers discussed specific details such as the identity of health workers and the location of hospitals in the film.

Amid those fears of censorship, 76 Days is some achievement. Amid the clinical threats to vast swathes of the world population more than six months after the virus first emerged, the film is braver still.

Footage from two Wuhan videographers covering the first stages of the outbreak in February is the basis for the entire film, which is even more sparing in big picture analysis than a daily TV news report. 76 Days is no more than an unflinching insight into the experiences of health workers and patients fighting a sickness on which we still have scant information. It takes its title from the ten-week window in which the city closed all of its public spaces, an unnerving preview of what much of the world would go through in the ensuing months. For that reason, its sheer topicality is eerie – and deeply compelling. You won’t find a documentary more grounded in the events of today than this.

Unfortunately, you won’t find one much bleaker, either. The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly enabled flashes of inspiration and generosity, be that heroic crowdfunding efforts or communities coming together in the face of stark new challenges. The footage from Weixi Chen and Anonymous has no time for such stories, instead laying out the scale of the destruction wrought by the virus on patients old and young, male and female, vulnerable and persistent. This is no study of the human spirit thriving in the face of insurmountable odds; it’s a chronicle of the first days of a coming dystopia.

76 Days was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2020.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

Pixie review – silly but joyous Irish spaghetti western

Olivia Cooke shines as the enigmatic title character in this bonkers genre subversion, co-starring Alec Baldwin as a drug-dealing priest

David Byrne’s American Utopia review – a comfort blanket for troubled times

The inimitable Talking Heads frontman teams with Spike Lee for this joyous celebration of where we are and where we're going

Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You review – stirring and transcendent making-of

The Boss's first collaboration with the full E Street Band in over 35 years is brought to life in this brilliantly spirited documentary

Totally Under Control review – intermittently astonishing COVID doc

Alex Gibney's look at America's disastrous handling of the pandemic is studious and important, even as it peters out

Features

Tracey Deer on Beans: “There is still so much work to be done”

The filmmaker is trying to reshape Canadians’ understanding of the country’s Indigenous community. Adam Solomons talks to the TIFF prize-winner about her debut narrative feature

Best of the Fest: 12 Essential Films From BFI LFF 2020

We've gathered up our most glowing reviews from this year's festival, from groundbreaking animation to dizzying debuts

Best Films to Watch in London and Stream This Week

From cinema releases to streaming gems, including a meditation of male friendship and the return of everyone's favourite Kazakh reporter

Every Sofia Coppola Film, Ranked

The Bling Ring or The Beguiled? With On the Rocks now in cinemas, Ella Kemp sorts through the filmmaker's sumptuous canon so far...