Overview: ALL THAT BREATHES follows two brothers who devote their lives to the quixotic effort of protecting the black kite, a majestic bird of prey essential to the ecosystem of New Delhi that has been falling from the sky at alarming rates. Amid environmental toxicity and social unrest, the ‘kite brothers’ spend day and night caring for the creatures in their makeshift avian basement hospital. The film explores the connection between the kites and the Muslim brothers who help them return to the skies, offering a mesmerizing chronicle of inter-species coexistence. Debut Date: February 07, 2023
Expectations: I almost have to like this, right? It is hailed “one of the best movies of 2022” by the New York Times and has won numerous awards including best in its field at Sundance and Cannes, plus has an Oscar nomination. I’m interested in its telling and how it sits with me.
Gut Reaction: Hmmm. Quite honestly, I had to ruminate on this piece for a bit before writing this. My gut reaction was settled in way before the documentary even ended but over time additional thoughts arose that suddenly didn’t make the first reaction so clear cut. Don’t get me wrong, I hold to the belief that what I chose as the good and solid message of the film was the right one. It was told to us scene by scene and one not to be forgotten – humans and the other fauna of the world, wild & domestic, are all interconnected in the space given. And that only we trash and poison it. The least we can do is be compassioned stewards like Nadeem, Saud, and Salik. But the more I thought about it the more I wondered about which part of that message was the most prominent and that is where it gets a bit intricate. Some critics might argue that those intricacies are what makes this film Oscar-worthy. Was the focus on the brothers and their colleague and their noble deeds? If it was, there was so much about them we didn’t get to know. Was the plight of the black kite the focus? If so, why are there so many injured birds in the air of New Delhi; pollution doesn’t injure wings. Or is the focus to be on the environmental damage we have wrought? Again, a theme made cinematically clear but not verbalized. I mean the opening shot of all the rats didn’t look like they were distressed by all our rubbish. I guess, the best answer here is that you can take ALL THAT BREATHES on whatever level you wish. Its slow pace allows one to weigh all the themes that are packed within 1 hour and 37 minutes.
Conclusion: So, in the end, all the points that could have been made were a bit muddied for me, but the strong ones that stood out were impactful. It clearly didn’t hurt that it was beautifully shot. Bless the black kites and all that breathe.