After a successful world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Festival, Shaunak Sen’s documentary on two brothers who tend injured Black Kites in New Delhi went on to pick up major awards at Cannes and the London Film Festival, and was nominated for both the Oscars and BAFTAs.
Focusing on a particular ecological crisis in the Indian capital, the documentary is both an uplifting tale of the brothers’ dedication and tenacity and a sideways view at a major world city that rarely features in contemporary cinema outside of musical romance, crime thrillers or sentimental tourism. The film’s elegiac tone and unashamed spirituality, emphasised by the camerawork and score, make this a metaphor for the wider sense of a disconnect between humankind and the natural world.
This is Sen’s second full-length documentary film. His first, 2015’s Cities of Sleep, took a similarly oblique look at life in Delhi, concentrating on homelessness and the difficulty of finding somewhere to sleep in a metropolis where even the grubbiest piece of ground commands a price and running afoul of the “sleep mafia” can prove fatal.
What distinguishes his new film, and perhaps accounts for its international success, is the greater emphasis on the spiritual and the beautiful, but this never comes at the expense of trivialising the social and economic challenges of pollution and over-crowding.
“With a tone more melancholic and charming than one might expect given the various crises at play here, Sen’s deceptively casual observational documentary prefers dwelling on resistance and resilience to pronouncements of doom.” Dennis Harvey, Variety.
“Simply as a record of slow-burning ecological tragedy, Sen crafts All That Breathes like a meditative poem, one that is cut to mindful perfection by editors Charlotte Munch Bengtsen and Vedant Joshi. The structure itself is striking in its unadorned approach. There’s poetry in simplicity to be found here.” Poulomi Das, Firstpost.