Shaunak Sen’s highly acclaimed All That Breathes follows a pair of brothers who have dedicated their lives to helping wounded birds, particularly black kites, by running a bird hospital in the city of Delhi.
The approach Sen takes here avoids all impulses for an uplifting “real-life heroes” narrative. Instead, it is a modest, melancholic, and anxious film about how difficult it is for something beautiful and meaningful to survive in this world. This topic is approached from several points of view: the struggle of the birds to survive in an urban environment and the brothers’ attempts to continue operating their bird hospital. The film even weaves these topics into a specific context of Indian internal politics.
The film is mostly made up of calmly paced sequences observing the brothers’ everyday lives, the small wins and losses they experience as well as the difficulty and meaning they find in this work. The film then mixes these observations with shorter sequences that act as portraits of different kinds of animals surviving in a modern urban environment. These images have a haunting beauty to them. It feels impossible that anything would survive in this alien-seeming landscape, yet signs of life shine through. These sequences feel like they act as symbols for the film’s main ideas: the world is full of beautiful things that we fail to pay attention to, but which are dying because of us.
Greenpeace opens all three screenings.