All That Breathes explores human relationships with environment

A story of endurance, empathy and the human spirit


March 25, 2023

/ By / New Delhi

All That Breathes explores human relationships with environment

All that Breathes poster

All That Breathes, an Indian short film that made it to the Academy Awards earlier this month, centers on two brothers residing in Delhi who have dedicated their lives to safeguarding injured birds, with a special focus on black kites.

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Human stories have one thing in common: they are raw and powerful, as Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage, remarked in the HBO series Game of Thrones. : “There is nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it” Lannister said in the series.

All that Breathes, directed by Shaunak Sen, is one such story. The story revolves around the lives of two brothers who have dedicated half of their lives to caring for birds of prey, which are often seen as symbols of bad luck in Indian culture.

The film depicts the challenges faced by these birds and a certain section of the population in Delhi, where the air pollution has made the environment increasingly hostile for the birds. The film follows the brothers as they tend to the injured birds and struggle to secure funding for a proposed animal rescue hospital. Despite their efforts, there is a pervasive sense of hopelessness evident in their conversations.

Nevertheless, the film continues to portray the brothers’’ unwavering commitment to caring for the birds, treating their wounds with patience and perseverance.

The structure of All That Breathes is meticulously crafted to illustrate the broader perspectives concerning Delhi, a city teetering on the brink of environmental and cultural disaster. Despite the pollution, waterlogged streets, and polluted waterways, Delhi is still breathing, and its people still cling to life in the face of an increasingly hostile ecosystem.

The film highlights the resilience and adaptability of the people as they struggle to survive amidst various crises, including the violence against Muslims that occurs a few km away from the brothers’’ basement. In one direct and confrontational scene, the film relates to the proximity of the violence. All these crises underscore the importance of hope and wonder in a world where desires have come to a standstill.

The cinematographers on the team, including Benjamin Bernhard, Riju Das, and Soumyananda Sahi, have done a remarkable job of capturing the visuals in All That Breathes, which are both stunning and poetic, even in the most polluted and grimy environments.

The film features an unforgettable sequence where numerous black kites fly around the Delhi sky during a meat tossing event, which is a breathtaking moment filled with both intimacy and expansiveness, evoking a sense of euphoria that could overwhelm the heart.

What makes The film #AllThatBreathes is significant to me because it examines the connections between humans and non-human entities in a distinct setting that is not typical of environmental films, such as forests or mountains. Instead, it takes place in an urban dystopia, which may seem unremarkable at first, but the film manages to create a sense of enchantment from this unlikely backdrop.

All That Breathes is a profound and deeply emotional work that is urgent and sublime, and Sen has undoubtedly created a masterpiece. What makes All that Breathes special is that it delves into the connections between humans and non-human entities, but in an unconventional setting that deviates from the usual themes found in environmental films, such as forests or mountains. Instead, the film portrays an urban dystopia, which may not seem like the most promising source material, yet manages to evoke a sense of wonder and enchantment.

Despite not bagging the Oscar earlier this month to which it won a nomination, the documentary has had an incredible journey. It began by earning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2022, and shortly after, also went on to win L’Oeil d’Or, the highest accolade for documentaries at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Since then, this film has traveled around the world and finally succeeded in securing a much-coveted nominal position in the Best Documentary Feature category at the 95th Academy Awards.



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