While the award-winning documentary All That Breathes is ostensibly about brothers Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad and their associate Salik Rehman, who rescue injured or weak birds of prey around New Delhi, it is really about so much more. They live in and operate out of a cramped space in Wazirabad village, which appears to be a Muslim enclave in a city that is becoming increasingly hostile to members of the faith. With only minimal funding, they struggle to rescue as many of the birds as possible, a daunting task as every year more and more of them fall victim to the area’s overwhelming air pollution.
Civil unrest is breaking out in the streets around them, threatening their ability to operate, as monsoon rains flood the garage they work out of and intermittent power outages force them into the dark. Still, they persevere, hoping for the government to allow them to accept foreign funding while still doing whatever it takes to rescue, feed, heal, and release their beloved birds, and with the threat of anti-Islamic violence creeping perilously close to their street.
It’s noble work that the group is undertaking, especially in the face of so much adversity, but despite seeming very eventful, the film has a fairly slow, almost poetic pace. The narrative often pauses for extended shots of the ways that nature is forced to adapt to the shocking squalor of New Delhi’s streets, leading to some truly stunning moments. The cinéma vérité style, with only minimal voiceover, helps to create the feeling of being along for the ride as this group goes about an “ordinary” day. Evidence of the country’s recent slide towards authoritarianism can be heard in the background via TV news reports or the roar of distant mobs, but at least for these few days its effects stay off of their doorstep.
All That Breathes is an interesting and artfully made watch, that should hopefully help to drive home just how much damage we have done and continue to do to our current ecosystem. Mohammad, Nadeem, and Salik are engaging to watch and there is a good amount of levity mixed in to keep things from feeling too dour. It’s always nice to see a story about people trying their hardest to do some good in the world, even if it feels like it might be a futile effort, and the movie gives what feels like a more authentic portrayal of life in modern India than we are usually privy to. ★★★★
not rated. contains some strong language, brief bloody images, and thematic material.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor