- Movie Rating -

The 95th Academy Award Nominees: ‘All That Breathes’

| January 28, 2023

• Best Documentary Feature

Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes is a deeply moving and deeply introspective documentary that uses the poetry of observation to convey the information that the natural world is being strangled by the reckless impulses of mankind.  This, of course, is nothing new, but the movie doesn’t shame us.  It doesn’t rub our noses in the message.  The camera is set in a place that makes it all too clear and then brings to light two brothers who dedicate their lives to doing something about it.

The place is a small section of New Delhi, a place covered in ashes, soot, grime and urban decay, a place choked by industry.  Migratory birds dot the sky, Kites they’re called, because of the way they float in the air rather than flutter.  Yet, thanks to the industry polluting the landscape, they fall to the ground where they most likely will die.  But if they are lucky, they will fall into the hands of two Muslim brothers who have turned their basement into a homemade clinic where they try and nurse these creatures back to health.

The brothers are Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud and they have devoted the past two decades to caring for the Black Kites who, by the brothers’ accounts, have numbered around 20,000.  We get to know these guys as brothers, as family and as men on a mission.  It makes for a very interesting mixture, particularly when they are at odds.  Anyone with a sibling will immediately identify.

Sen’s camera tries to illustrate what the birds mean to this skyline and also what it means to other wildlife.  The careless march of industry has made New Delhi one of the most polluted placed on earth, which is why the natural wildlife seen in the film’s opening shots are largely made up of rats and mosquitos.  What is amazing in the way that Sen’s camera captures snatches of beauty in a muck-fill landscape.  Unlike urban centers in America, New Delhi is known for having human and animal occupying the same streets, so there’s a kind of beauty in seeing horses along a riverbank or pigs crossing the river.  Sen lingers on shots of water that reflects human beings going about their business while mosquitoes help themselves to the dark crystal pools in the street.

The great value of the film is that it feels unhurried, not bound to get to a point.  The point is made early and often through the visuals and through the landscape that mankind is the orchestrator of his own destiny if he so chooses.  Without it, his natural world becomes a wasteland of crud and decay and disease.  Through these two brothers we see something special, an optimistic manner of viewing the beauty of nature through a lens covered in dirt.  They grew up watching the skies, watching the Black Kites as a manner of escaping their environment.  Now, as adults, they devote themselves to saving a small part of it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary