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The First Wave Review: How to Fight a Virus

by Stewart Cole

The documentary “The First Wave”, a familiar portrait of the first four months of the coronavirus pandemic in New York, goes inside the Long Island Medical Center in Queens as doctors, nurses and patients struggle to fight a surge the capabilities of the hospital.

Director Matthew Heinemann (“Cartel Land”, “A Private War”) prefers the “fly-on-the-wall” style as he watches the scenes in the hospital. It is clear that he was given a remarkable degree of access to make this documentary. The camera watches from the bed of patients with flat lining as their doctors try to bring them back.

In the following scenes, the main character of the film, Dr. Nathalie Dougé, is overwhelmed by a new disease that does not follow known standards. It is disturbing to watch the degree of suffering that this film documents, all the more so because the pandemic is still ongoing.

Heineman does not include talking heads to shape the images presented, preferring to allow doctors and nurses to explain the chaos that surrounds them. The deliberate lack of external perspective adds to the overwhelming atmosphere in the hospital. This is not a complete portrait of the diagnostics, treatment plans or even the political conditions that caused such a deadly first outburst. But the film manages to present an on-site view of how he felt in a hospital in the spring of 2020. It was painful, death was everywhere and there was no end.

The First Wave
R rating for graphic images, medical look and language. Performance duration: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.

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