Review by Sean Boelman
There have been a lot of recent documentaries about the Chinese healthcare system (for obvious reasons), but what makes Ye Ye’s film H6 stand out is that it isn’t about the COVID-19 pandemic. A glimmering portrait of humanity, this is an absolutely moving work of verite filmmaking.
The movie takes a look at the patients of the No. 6 People’s hospital in Shanghai, China and their families, as they struggle to stay alive and maintain their optimism despite their seemingly bleak circumstances. It’s a highly relatable film in many regards because so many people have lived through loved ones experiencing crises.
At nearly two hours long, the movie does perhaps go on for a bit longer than it needs to. The film straddles the line of becoming monotonous in regards to how it presents these stories that feel similar to one another, but it manages to connect the audience emotionally to so many of these everyday people.
Ye Ye does set out to document a lot of individuals’ experiences in this movie, but they all serve the greater purpose of representing the collective experience of the people of China (and to an extent, the world). It’s one of those films that sets out to find empathy in the darkest of moments, and it works.
Of course, the movie hits the hardest when we see these families go through the emotional challenges of dealing with illness. Yet there is also something inspiring about seeing these people persevere through all of these challenges. Ye Ye finds the right balance between the optimistic and gritty elements of the film.
That said, the movie could have done a lot more in its commentary on the actual system. Although this was filmed right before COVID-19, it’s undeniable that audiences will be looking at this with a very different lens than it was probably created with. And the result is that it feels like it could do a bit more.
Still, Ye Ye does an excellent job creating meaning out of her heavily observational footage. It’s a very intimate movie, and the directorial approach works quite well, emphasizing the feeling that the audience is right there alongside these patients and families. Ye Ye makes something that could have felt voyeuristic and instead makes it personal.
H6 is without a doubt one of the best documentaries to come out of this year’s Festival de Cannes. Even with the changed perspective we will have on the film due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still very moving.
H6 screened at the Cannes Film Festival, which ran from July 7-17.