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'Sound Of Metal' And '76 Days' Best Streaming Options This Weekend

The documentary "76 Days" looks to health workers treating patients in the 76 days of Wuhan lockdown.
MTV Documentary Films
The documentary "76 Days" looks to health workers treating patients in the 76 days of Wuhan lockdown.

Choose between Riz Ahmed and COVID-19 documentary

During the holidays, Hollywood sometimes forces holiday cheer or family films, but here are some streaming options with more challenging content: "Sound of Metal" and "76 Days."

'76 Days'

"76 Days" (buy your virtual ticket through DGC@Home to support the local Digital Gym Cinema during its physical closure) had its San Diego premiere through the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF). The film is an amazing document of how health workers coped with the coronavirus pandemic in those 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan. The film plays out without narration as it follows patients, doctors, and nurses from the frantic first days through the exhausting months and to final lifting of lockdown. What is so impressive is how much access the filmmaker got. The footage was gathered by Chinese journalists Weixi Chen and Anonymous (one journalist chose anonymity) and then directed and edited by them and Hao Wu.

The results put you right in the middle of the pandemic chaos as we witness daily battles to care for patients. There is an older man with dementia who insists on wandering the halls, a pregnant woman who must quarantine before being allowed to take her baby, a doctor who has to go through the belongings of patients who have died to call their families, and the constant struggle to fit all the patients into cramped spaces that also need to provide some social distancing.

Wu began the project in anger over the Chinese government's handling of the pandemic and its silencing of whistleblowers. But as the project progressed and evolved it turned into more of a tribute to the frontline workers who displayed courage, ingenuity, and compassion in the more difficult and trying times. The film is also a reminder of how serious this pandemic is and how it takes a toll not just on people who get the virus but also on doctors and nurses.

Cinema Junkie Recommends Non-Traditional Holiday Viewing Options

'Sound of Metal'

"Sound of Metal" (now streaming on Amazon Prime Video) also has ties to SDAFF. Actor Riz Ahmed stars as a musician coping with sudden quality of life issues in both "Sound of Metal" and "Mogul Mowgli," which also had its San Diego's virtual premiere through SDAFF.

In both films, Ahmed shows off not just his acting chops but also his skill as a musician.

In "Sound of Metal" Ahmed plays Ruben, a drummer in a punkish band. Abruptly he starts to suffer hearing loss yet he refuses to deal with it till he is on the brink of being deaf. This leads him to a deaf community where they address the mental change that has to accompany the physical change of losing one's hearing.

What the film does brilliantly is use sound design to convey Ruben's audio world. Sounds grow muffled and words become indistinct as his hearing deteriorates and we hear that downward progression. It is an effective way to really put us in Ruben's place and let us experience the terror of losing one's hearing but then appreciate the stillness of the silence.

In some ways I wish Darius Marder (who makes his feature directorial debut here) had committed more fully to this approach. He uses it well but he gives us relief by allowing us to hear the world in its full audio spectrum. I suppose he or the studio was concerned about how unconventional that would be for an audience but imagine how compelling it could be to have the audio slowly fade from us and by the end we are hearing the world solely through Ruben's ears.

The film occasionally slips into the disease of the week formula. Plus there are places where it leaves some narrative gaps that prove frustrating. When Ruben opts for surgery he seems to do it in a vacuum and when he deals with the aftermath of the surgery he seems stunned by the results, It would seem that a doctor performing an $80,000 surgery would have better explained what to expect. The film tries to be respectful of the deaf community as well as to Ruben who makes decisions based on trying to keep his previous life intact despite the changes he is going through.

"Sound of Metal" is a film well worth listening to and the benefit of viewing it from home is that you can watch with headphones on to fully appreciate the audio.

These films join Shudder's Holly 'Gialli' Christmas programming that just launched and offer escape from holiday cheer.