76 Days


Exhausted healthcare workers take a breather.

(2020) Documentary (MTV Films Various unidentified health care professionals and COVID patients Directed by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen and Anonymous

 

2020 will long be remembered as a tumultuous, challenging year and for many, the defining factor was (and is) the COVID-19 global pandemic. It first surfaced in China in late 2019 and soon became a global concern when the large city of Wuhan went into lockdown as the infection rate rose beyond the area’s health care system ability to adequately handle the influx of sick patients.

During the lockdown, two Chinese reporters – Weixi Chen and one who declined to release their name – were embedded in four Wuhan-area hospitals to see firsthand how the health care professionals dealt with the crisis. The footage was then sent to Chinese-American Hao Wu (The People’s Republic of Desirei) in Atlanta to edit the footage and put together a narrative.

What the audience is given is a “you are-there” look inside hospitals dealing with a terrifying and largely unknown disease that was spreading like wildfire through the city. We are treated to an emotional wallop in the opening scene as a nurse in hazmat suit runs down a hospital corridor, clearly distraught; her own father has contracted the disease and is dying. She longs to see him one last time, but this is denied her and she simply put, loses it as is completely understandable. She can do nothing but sob helplessly as her father gasps his last and his body is taken away for burial.

This sets the expectation that this isn’t going to be an ordinary documentary  We watch the doctors, nurses and technicians go about their daily routines which are anything but routine, watch as they grow progressivlely frustrated at the inability to treat the disease as they flail in the dark blindly, trying to alleviate the symptoms and save lives. Dealing with uncertainty and exhaustion, they are sometimes short with one another and often fall back on protocol in order to keep the hospital functioning in the face of rising panic. The patients are mostly terrified, wth the doctors able to bring them scant comfort and separated from loved ones who can only communicate with them via cell phone. In some cases, we have happy endings, as doctors see their recovered patients off as they are returned home to be quarantined an additional 14 days along with their family members.

There are some moments of wonderful tenderness, as a couple who have been separated from their newborn infant due to the mother having COVID when she delivered her, finally getting to meet their newborn after weeks of quarantine. We see a frustrating patient, an older man with dementia constantly battling his caregivers and refusing to follow their protocols, but eventually after weeks of hospitalization finally…well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

There are also moments of grimness as we see a tub full of cell phones, taken from patients who have passed on, some of them ringing for those who can no longer answer. We also see the city streets deserted of traffic, a city that normally is bustling and alive, now a pandemic-induced ghost town. As the lockdown is lifted at the conclusion of the film, we hear the air raid sirens go off in memory of those that did not survive.

One of the memories I will take away from the film is one of the scenes near the end where a hospital administrator is charged with returning the disinfected personal effects of the deceased to their families. It’s heartbreaking to say the least and gives you an immediate understanding of the human toll of the disease; we see the numbers of the hospitalized and the dead, but we don’t really get it until we see the faces of those who are afflicted and of those who mourn the dead. It is a scene that is going on in thousands of hospitals across this country as well.

This is truly cinema verité, with the footage presented without commentary, musical accompaniement or much information beyond opening and closing title cards. The stories are allowed to be told with subtitleds flashing on the screen at a furious pace. The problem may be for those who have trouble reading them (and at times they are difficult to read because the subtitles are white and so too are the majority of hazmat suits and PPE worn by the medical professionals) quickly may quickly be left behind, for often the conversations are rapid fire as you might expect they would be in a crisis situation.

The movie is apolitical; they aren’t here to judge the Chinese nor compare them to anyone else. We just see events as they happened, edited to give context and to see the simple fact that most health care professionals are at heart deeply caring people no matter the nationality. We have been (rightfully) lionizing our frontline health care professionals of late for their extraordinary service to the community as we cope with a deadly pandemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States alone and more than two million dead worldwide. Here, we see firsthand why we are doing so.

As we are still in the thrall of the pandemic, it is understandable that many might not wish to see a movie with the immediacy of 76 Days but we should, if only to get an appreciation and perspective on the reality of what the disease has done to us. While there is no commentary on how effective the Chinese response was as opposed to the American response, one can’t help but wonder if the Americans, who unlike the Chinese questioned their doctors and disease specialists and refused to wear masks or socially dstance (by contrast, you don’t see a single citizen of Wuhan without a mask), you can’t help but wonder if our numbers might not have been so tragically high had we been as cooperative as a society as the Chinese were. Food for thought.

REASONS TO SEE: An immersive look at what frontline health care workers are going through. Powerful and gut-wrenching. A little eerie in places. Makes one wonder how different things would be here if we had followed the Chinese model.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the subtitles are hard to read quickly enough.
FAMILY VALUES: There are adult themes having to do with the current pandemic.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title refers to the amount of time that Wuham spent in lockdown during the initial crisis in 2019.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/28/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 84/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hot Zone
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
Baby Done

Lucha Mexico


Blue Demon Jr. surveys his domain.

Blue Demon Jr. surveys his domain.

(2015) Documentary (Self-Released) Shocker, Jon Strongman Andersen, Fabian El Gitano, Blue Demon Jr., Julio Cesar Rivera, Tony Salazar, Kemonito, Arkangel, Ultimo Guerrero, Faby Apache, Sexy Star, Arkangel, Damian 666, Halloween, El Hijo del Pedro Aguayo, Gigante Bernard. Directed by Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz

Professional wrestling here in the United States is essentially an entertainment spectacle. While the participants involved are indeed athletes of the highest caliber, the matches are scripted and the outcomes pre-determined to a storyline that matches up good guys versus bad guys. The same is true in Mexico, where wrestling is known as lucha libre  but South of the Border it is something of a national mania.

For eons, wrestlers – called luchadores in Mexico – mainly plied their trade in two different establishments, the CMLL and the AAA. Many would wear masks that gave them a kind of superhero mystique, as if they were protecting a secret identity. As time went by, the masks became more and more a part of their identity; luchadores wear them often up to 18 hours a day. Some almost never take them off, feeling more comfortable in the mask than without.

And make no mistake, those masks are money makers for both of the wrestling federations; sales of masks for the fans are a very significant portion of the merchandising income for the CMLL, the AAA and the wrestlers themselves. The luchadores are very careful to market their image properly as this is part of what keeps them viable as draws to the organizations they work for.

&This documentary goes behind the masks and the marketing to a certain extent, trying to illustrate and explain the absolute obsession that the Mexican people have for wrestling and the luchadores. For many, it is an escape from the economic upheaval, the political corruption, the drug violence and the desperate poverty that is a part of Mexican daily life. In the world of lucha libre, good triumphs over evil (most of the time) and honor and virtue are lauded above deceit and avarice.

One thing that has caught the sport by surprise is the rise of the Rudos. Rudos are the wrestlers who generally are rule-breakers, although some use the term to describe any who wrestle without masks, or use brute force as their primary wrestling technique. Tecnicos, or technicians, tend to be high-flyers, and generally are the heroic who fight with honor and sportsmanship. Because of the corruption in Mexico, the people have begun to see those who refuse to play by the rules as more heroic than those who do, mainly because every day they see those who play by the rules tend to be the ones who support a corrupt system.

This has given rise to the Perros Del Mal, an organization that is roughly equivalent to the ECW in the United States. Their matches tend towards the extreme and here the Rudos worship is more pronounced. Founded by wrestler El Hijo del Pedro Aguayo, the PDM has taken off in popularity over the past five years and now rivals the established organizations for the imagination of the Mexican lucha fans.

The documentary, which was four years in the making, primarily focuses on Shocker, one of the most popular figures in the CMLL and Strongman, an American import in the same organization. Shocker comments on the loneliness of the luchador life and after suffering a severe knee injury that put him out of action for six months, saw him really having a hard time coming back to the level of competition he had been at previously. Strongman also suffers an elbow injury and is a devoted family man who lives in California, wrestling with a Japanese federation at the same time he labored for the CMLL, racking up the frequent flyer miles.

Injuries are a significant part of the wrestling game. Most wrestlers are injured at any given time, be it cracked ribs, fractured wrists, pulled muscles, and of course enough bruises to wallpaper a house. They gamely wrestle through the pain and perform in all sorts of venues, from the ancient but respected Arena Mexico in Mexico City to brand new sports palaces to tents at local ferias. They travel by bus, by plane and by personal car. They are often absent from families (if they have them) for weeks at a time.

The documentary has a good deal of information regarding the sport as it is performed in Mexico and the interviews are lively. We rarely see talking heads; people in this documentary are always in motion and always doing something, be it working out in the gym, walking down the street, signing autographs or preparing for their wrestling matches. The film is kinetic and colorful which makes it stand out among other documentaries. Even non-wrestling fans will find this entertaining and informative.

What the movie fails to do however is address corruption within the sport itself, of problems with wrestlers who are less well-known going unpaid by unscrupulous promoters who also sometimes abscond with the gate of a live show, or wrestlers being dropped by promotions after getting injured. It’s a vicious industry and we don’t get a sense of that, which may have been in order for the filmmakers to secure access to the stars of the CMLL and the AAA whose Blue Demon Jr. is, like many wrestlers in the sport, sons and grandsons of legendary stars of the sport.

We also get little context as to what about wrestling appeals to the Mexican soul, although that is discussed somewhat. It is a fascinating topic and I think would have served the film better if we had gotten the point of view of wrestling fans rather than just those involved with the industry. A little context and perspective might have made this a better movie.

Still, this is better than most documentaries I’ve seen this year, although the subject matter may be less urgent. This isn’t a movie that is going to change your life or alter your view of the world. It may just give you a further appreciation of the sport/entertainment/spectacle that is professional wrestling. While there are a lot of similarities of Mexican wrestling to the American version (i.e. storylines and character development), there are a lot of differences; there are more interactions between wrestlers and fans and the wrestlers themselves seem to be less egotistical and down-to-earth, even if they do spend an enormous time at the gym. I don’t know if Vince McMahon will be seeing this film, but he should; he might get a few ideas for his own promotion, the WWE. Even the most popular wrestling promotion in the world can learn something new, after all.

REASONS TO GO: Informative and appealing even to non-fans. Avoids talking heads syndrome.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks context. Doesn’t address corruption in the sport.
FAMILY VALUES: Wrestling violence, some profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Four of the people who appear in the film have since passed away, including two who died during filming (and whose passing is covered in the film).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beyond the Mat
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Spectre