The dimensions of human strength

    COVID-19: During the worst moments of our collective tragedy, healthcare staff and patients unite in the face of the unknown.
    Director: Michele Aiello
    Producer: Michele Aiello
    Country: Italy

    Watching a documentary filmed on the front lines of an Italian hospital as COVID-19 pandemic began, while it is still not over comes with a distinct kind of weight. But more than weight, Michele Aiello’s Io Resto brings depth of understanding, compassion, and warmth, to a film that feels both immediate and incredibly personal.

    It is March 2020, the peak of the pandemic’s first wave. The camera enters a hospital in Brescia where it stays. Its presence is discrete enough not to interfere with what it sees and with the dignity and privacy of the people. But it stays close enough to capture pace, emotions, and the pulse of things.

    Io Resto, a film by Michele Aiello
    Io Resto, a film by Michele Aiello

    An unrushed witness

    This camera is a subtle unrushed witness. Watching the film feels like looking through it yourself; being there, part of each scene. We have all seen the images of hospitals and medical staff dressed in full white protective suits, but one could only truly imagine that whole world. What does it look like is one question, but more importantly – how does it feel? It’s this dimension that Aiello’s film captures and renders.

    There is quietness in Aiello’s clean, almost minimalist shots. There is emotion captured in the details and the mundane. From the graveness transpiring under the Covid siege, one might expect chaos on the front lines. But fighting Covid is a quiet suffocating battle, its soundtrack is that of respiratory machines.

    There’s also a ubiquitous sense of tension. Death is a looming shadow, a background character, present but never seen in full display. It is revealed in the low-key exists of patients, in doctor’s traumatic memories, and in the in-betweens.

    We have all seen the images of hospitals and medical staff dressed in full white protective suits, but one could only truly imagine that whole world.

    Love & bonds

    But Aiello’s film is not about death. It is about fighting it. It is a film about keeping things together despite this looming threat. A film about the love and bonds in a reality that is as frightening as it is human.

    The hospital staff is only witnesses the worst of the pandemic, but does so with an open heart, inspiring an incredible amount of emotion and admiration. They struggle to keep their patients alive, while losing many. They also learn each day.

    A film about the love and bonds in a reality that is as frightening as it is human.

    The virus is fought with medicine but also with a sense of dignity. Affection, calm and love are weapons too. Helping patients shave. Assisting their video-calls. Holding phones to their ears when they don’t have the strength to do so themselves. Letting them express emotion and making sure they’re heard even when they can’t speak. And, most painfully, finding ways to give them a dignified goodbye when needed. One has to wonder where is this never finite source of inner resource as these doctors and these nurses are vulnerable to the virus too.

    This empathy, and ability to stay open, calling each patient by their name, seeing them as individuals though they might lose them the next day creates emotions hard to put into words. Watching each scene, you never know what’s coming and they don’t know it either. You hope they’ll make it, and some do.

    Io Resto, a film by Michele Aiello
    Io Resto, a film by Michele Aiello

    Full circle

    You hope that Franco makes it, this frail man struggling to breath and move. He’s fragile and visibly weak while talking with his family, his wife and daughter trying keep spirits up through a video call. Of all the things that could be said, his wife tells him two of their hens are now new mothers – like a reminder that his life, simple and loving, is there waiting for him to come home. There is also the lovely Giusy, in her 80’s, who made it and is now smiling and calling for a dance. She makes the nurses dance – towards the end the realisation of her being healthy again, making her cry from overwhelm.

    We have now come full circle. More than a year has passed since the virus reached Europe turning our lives upside down. But more than a «look back», Io Resto is a «dive into», one that puts human faces to that which reached us as numbers and statistics. If anything, it is a portrait of the best and most admiring version of the human spirit. That version that is resourceful and courageous, and in the worst of circumstances shows resilience, and love, and sometimes even finds a moment for a little dance.

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    Bianca-Olivia Nita
    Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
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