It’s been a full year since COVID-19 first introduced itself, and the pandemic isn’t done with us just yet. Indeed, it’s likely to dominate our lives a little while longer — and after the pandemic finally peters out, we’ll probably be watching movies about it for decades to come.
76 Days (currently streaming via CBS and the recently launched Paramount +) is first out of the cinematic gates, and it’s a keeper. Shot during Wuhan’s eleven-week lockdown, the film is an observational documentary about the frontline doctors, nurses, and patients battling a mysterious and terrifying new disease.
Twelve months later, life in Wuhan is largely back to normal — in part because the city’s intense lockdown was strictly enforced throughout those 76 days. Americans complaining of lockdown fatigue and mask mandates may feel hard done by, but the citizens of Wuhan made far greater sacrifices, fought the virus to a standstill, and are now reaping the benefits of their discipline and perseverance.
Of course, the measures taken in Wuhan could never have been imposed in the United States, and while the Chinese Communist Party goes largely unmentioned in 76 Days — which wisely focuses on the personal struggles of the men and women working in the city’s hospitals — the Party’s role in controlling the pandemic shouldn’t be underestimated. Though the CCP is responsible for lots of bad stuff — the Great Firewall, the mistreatment of the Uighur people, China’s social credit system — its control freakery proved advantageous during the COVID crisis.
Co-directed by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and an anonymous third filmmaker (presumably still resident in the People’s Republic), 76 Days provides a stirring tribute to Wuhan’s medical workers. Hopefully we’ll see similar films from other countries in the near future.
Streaming via Pacific Film Archive and the Roxie, The Inheritance looks and feels a bit like a student film — which is perhaps a little unfair to writer-director Ephraim Asili, who is actually a film professor at upstate New York’s Bard College. But the film is so steeped in late 20th-century radical politics that it could easily pass for the creation of a Columbia grad student circa 1970.
Largely based on Asili’s own young adulthood, the film is set in west Philadelphia, where 20-something Julian (Eric Lockley) has recently inherited his grandmother’s house. After opening a crate containing granny’s old records and books — including volumes by Malcolm X, Julius Nyerere, and James Baldwin — Julian is inspired to establish a socialist commune, inviting girlfriend Gwen (Nizipho Mclean) and old pal Rich (Chris Jarrel) along for the ride.
Openly influenced by Jean-Luc Godard’s revolutionary period — here referenced by a prominently placed poster for La Chinoise, Godard’s 1967 salute to Maoism — The Inheritance includes countless references to radical (and, in the case of James Brown and Dawn of the Dead, not so radical) art, cinema, music and politics.
Blending its semi-autobiographical narrative with newsreel footage of Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 Presidential campaign and 1985’s MOVE bombing, Asili’s film is, thankfully, no humorless broadside. Jarrel is fun as the friend who just needs a place to crash and could live without the house’s political rhetoric, while Lockley is noteworthy as the enthusiastic but occasionally in-over-his-head homeowner. Some of the cast aren’t quite ready for prime time, but this salute to youthful idealism is still worth a look, if only to admire all the vintage cultural ephemera on display.