All That Breathes
by George Wolf
It’s been a few hundred years since Emily Dickinson wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers,” but the Oscar-nominated All That Breathes shows there are at least two people in the world who still believe it.
For the past twenty years, as the city of Delhi has deteriorated around them, brothers Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad have devoted their lives to the rescue of the Black Kite, a bird they say can “swim, like a lazy dot in the sky.”
We witness that swimming in the film’s opening minutes, just one of the countless images that director Shaunak Sen presents with a bittersweet majesty. Aided by stellar craftsmanship from Ben Bernhard’s cinematography team and editors Charlotte Munch Bentsen and Vedant Joshi, Sen drives home the devastating effects of climate change and pollution with an ironically gorgeous display of shot-making.
Sen’s approach is immersive from the start, letting quiet conversations and sobering landscapes outline the roadblocks to the brothers’ commitment. But in the midst of their search for the funds to open a true rescue hospital, Saud and Nadeem give voice to concerns of rising societal fractures, including the marginalizing of Muslims and outbreaks of street violence.
Sen weaves these themes together with grace and restraint, letting the focus at work in this basement mission of mercy speak in universal terms. The belief that “Delhi is a gaping wound, and we are just a Band Aid” reflects the unyielding hope that drives the two brothers. We share our “community of air” with every living thing that relies on it. And as long as there is value given to All That Breathes, then all cannot truly be lost.