wed 17/04/2024

All That Breathes review - intensely moving nature documentary | reviews, news & interviews

All That Breathes review - intensely moving nature documentary

All That Breathes review - intensely moving nature documentary

Nature red in tooth and claw; a sublime portrait of urban wild-life

Watch the birdie; Nadeem Shehzad cares for an injured black kite

This extraordinarily moving film made history when it became the first documentary to win the top non-fiction awards at both Sundance and Cannes. All that Breathes is the second film directed by Shaunak Sen, shot in Delhi in 2019/2020 during the violence that followed the Citizenship Amendment Act

that discriminated against Muslim migrants.

Sen’s cameras follow two brothers, Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud who have devoted their lives to saving the city’s sick and injured black kites. Scavenger raptors, the birds circle the noxious, darkened sky. They live off urban scraps and form part of a complex ecosystem in heavily polluted Delhi; one of the brothers observes that without the kites, “the garbage would reach the sky”.  

The brothers’ mission sees them turning their kitchen into a sick bay for birds with broken wings, which they tenderly wash and bandage. The birds are seen as ill omens, and local veterinarians refuse to treat them because they eat meat; the discrimination against the raptors mirroring that shown toward the Muslim population.  As the number of sick kites grows, the basement is taken over and when funding comes through, they build a bird hospital on the roof. Along the way we meet other city dwellers – rats, owls, chipmunks and snakes – and get to know the brothers, their families and ambitions.There are moments of great tenderness, acute observation and quiet humour. A neighbour who is constantly being attacked by kites on his roof comes for advice. The brothers tell him it is probably a nesting mother protecting her young and suggest holding a tall stick, wearing a helmet and making eye contact.

At another point, one of the team wonders if the birds would eat them if they were to die in the basement.  Anyone who loves David Attenborough films will find much to enjoy here. When Mohammad Saud wins a scholarship to study bird rehabilitation and rescue in the US, there’s some anxiety when he leaves Delhi. As civil unrest brings growing violence, the brothers worry that no-one will be able to bring sick birds to them as the surrounding streets become a dangerous urban war zone

All that Breathes is a stunningly beautiful film with lead camerawork by the acclaimed documentary cinematographer Benjamin Bernhard. A well-calibrated score accompanies the subtle and atmospheric sound design. There’s no voice over telling the audience what conclusions to draw; we’re trusted to observe, contemplate and absorb for ourselves. The ultimate message may be that while humanity inflicts terrible harm on the world, through toxic pollution and religious conflict, it also produces human beings who perform great acts purely out of love for the natural world. Unmissable. 

Anyone who loves David Attenborough will find much to enjoy here


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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