Review by Sean Boelman
There have already been a lot of documentaries to come out about the COVID-19 pandemic, but none has taken as unique of an approach as Udi Nir and Sagi Bornstein’s Viral. Exploring the ways that people have remained connected in light of the circumstances, this is maybe the most humanistic film about the topic so far.
The movie follows seven people who cope with the loneliness and struggles of the pandemic through social media. Since almost all of us had to be separated from our friends and loved ones for at least part of last year, this is a story that audiences will connect with, at least to some extent.
As is the case with a lot of documentaries that follow multiple subjects, there are some storylines here that are more effective than others. Some portions of the film follow people who are just trying to go about their daily lives with new adjustments, and others deal with some more extraordinary situations.
Nir and Bornstein seem to recognize which of these stories are most interesting, and therefore give them a more significant portion of the movie’s focus. One of the more prominent storylines is a love story between a cruise ship worker and her overseas romantic partner, and this is the one that will perhaps most easily invest the audience.
Part of what makes this film stand out is how hopeful its approach to the pandemic is. Yes, there is a section in which the subjects are voicing their grievances with what they are having to go through, but the emphasis is more on how they were able to make the most of their situation to find some form of happiness.
With this more lighthearted tone comes a sense of humor that one doesn’t expect to see in a movie like this. Although there aren’t the gloom-and-doom scenes of people who are sick and dying, it never feels like Nir and Bornstein aren’t taking the situation seriously. It finds that perfect balance between meaningful and optimistic.
The footage is predominantly taken on cell phones and laptops as the subjects’ personal diaries. It may not be the most cinematic thing to watch, but it’s exactly what this type of story calls for, as these devices are what we have lived with as a society for the past year and it is only fitting that we are using them for our storytelling as well.
Viral is a very interesting documentary that tells some of the stories of the pandemic that we haven’t seen so many films about yet. It hits close to home, but in a way that makes it a great snapshot of the current moment.
Viral is screening as a part of the 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival, which runs April 29 through May 9.