76 Days (12)

A still from the film 76 Days

A still from the film 76 Days - Credit: Archant

Directed by Hao Wu, Anonymous and Weix Chen. Available on VOD Jan 22. Subtitled. Running time: 96 mins. 2/5 stars

When our esteemed features editor forwarded the press release for this fly-on-the-wall documentary about life inside four Wuhan hospitals during the two and half months of the world's first Covid lockdown, she added the comment, “who's going to watch this?”

A still from the documentary 76 Days

A still from the documentary 76 Days - Credit: Archant

Well, with China blocking entry to a WHO investigation team, my curiosity was piqued. While every non-tropical Northern hemisphere country – even the proper ones with grown-ups in charge – struggle with a crippling second wave, the originators of this global franchise have moved on.

Like Robert Altman's film version of M.A.S.H and the long-running TV programme it spawned, they have disavowed their legacy. Seems to me we've missed a trick somewhere.

Maybe, but we won't learn anything from this exercise in healthcare gawping. The first thing that strikes you is the opulence of the PPE. All the doctors and nurses are head-to-toe protected: swathed in plastic with faces hidden behind masks and visors. I bet early cosmonauts have gone into space with less protection. Even their cars are fully kitted out.

A still from the documentary 76 Days

A still from the documentary 76 Days - Credit: Archant

Beyond that, the film offers an hour and a half of plastic bag doctors rushing around hooking up masked elderly patients to respirators. It's like a slow episode of Casualty crossed with The Andromeda Strain. Occasionally, we venture outside into the deserted streets of Wuhan and your interest is drawn, but after a moment or two, we are ushered back to the ward.

To fill the minutes, the film tries to engage us with human interest stories. You know the drill: tears and triumph. 76 Days was made with western money and the Anonymous listed in the credits suggest it can't be dismissed as propaganda. It is though a textbook example of how a skilled documentarian can get intimate access and not see anything; draw a vivid snapshot to cover the big picture. Who needs in-depth analysis when you can focus on a grumpy and confused granddad who won't do what the doctors tell him and keeps wandering around and getting in the way?

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Historians, health care professionals and posterity will be grateful for the footage that Wu's team has assembled, but really, who will want to watch this?

http://www.halfmanhalfcritic.com for a review of Arrow Films two-disc blu-ray release of Southland Tales.