All That Breathes


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

All That Breathes
"Sen could easily just have made an observational documentary about the brothers' day-to-day work or simply focused on the kites themselves but he stretches its wings much further than that."

This wide-ranging documentary starts on the ground, slowly panning across a patch of waste ground where rats are busy going about their squeaky business. Later it will look up to the skies where the black kites "swim" through the smoggy air of India's capital Delhi but it's the connection between both and the lives that exist between them that director Shaunak Sen brings to the fore.

In a neighbourhood we will study from several angles during the course of the film, is the unassuming home and workplace of brothers Nadeem and Saud. Another panning shot - a technique put to good use right through the film - shows how a soap dispenser business is run from one corner while, not many feet away, the brothers and their younger employee Salik perform surgery on some of the many kites that fall from the sky on a daily basis. The reasons for these tumbling birds may not be spelled out, but it's clear many of them simply run into buildings because they can't see through the pollution, while a shot of humans flying kites in celebration suggests how some birds sustain the cuts and injuries they do. Through the course of the film we'll see the kites at their most majestic, most puckish and their most damaged, as the brothers nurse them back to health.

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The filmmaker blends observational material, capturing the brothers' bond as well as their occasional disagreements, with interviews that are heard rather than seen over footage of the black kites and other animals, that gives the documentary a philosophical dimension. We learn that many Indian Muslims believe they get religious credit - sawab - for feeding the kites, in which case Nadeem and Saud are certainly storing up treasure in Jannah with their attentive care of these animals. Although the pair wear it lightly, like those kites gliding in the air, we can see that keeping their Wildlife Rescue afloat is a constant effort, although it's likely this documentary will help to further their cause. As Nadeem puts it: “Delhi is a gaping wound and we're a tiny Band-Aid on it"

Sen could easily just have made an observational documentary about the brothers' day-to-day work or simply focused on the kites themselves but he stretches its wings much further than that. By filming the animals that live almost shoulder to shoulder with humans in the city, from the smallest mosquito on up - all shot beautifully by Ben Berhard and his team - he draws attention to how each creature's world is interlinked with the others. As the film progresses, we also see how the politics of India - in particular, its controversial citizenship law, which discriminates against Muslims - impacts on the everyday life of citizens like Nadeem and Saud. The result is a complex portrait of the intersection between humans and animals, the environment and the city, politics and social wellbeing that celebrates the brothers' work at the same time as lamenting humanity's more destructive impulses.

Reviewed on: 23 Jan 2022
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Against the darkening backdrop of Delhi's apocalyptic air and escalating violence, two brothers devote their lives to protect one casualty of the turbulent times: the bird known as the black kite.
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Director: Shaunak Sen

Starring: Mohammad Saud, Nadeem Shehzad

Year: 2022

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: UK, India

Streaming on: NOW TV

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