Review by Camden Ferrell
All That Breathes is an international documentary whose significance can’t be denied, but whose mileage will vary by viewer. This movie had its premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and later played at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. It won the Grand Jury Prize and Golden Eye award for best documentary at the respective festivals, the first film to ever achieve such a feat. Despite having an important and urgent topic and a great eye for cinematic composition, the movie unfortunately stumbles as it struggles with creating a cohesive and accessible narrative for its viewers.
New Delhi is one of the most populated cities in the world, and it is also home to increasingly toxic and polluted air. In addition to environmental problems, the area also experiences social unrest. Due to these factors, essential birds called the black kite have been falling dead from the sky. Two brothers along with their makeshift hospital aim to protect this animal from the calamity that surrounds it.
From the start, the movie is able to establish its importance and urgency, and this allows the viewer to invest themselves in the story being told. However, this investment falters as the story quickly loses cohesion. The vision is ambitious, but it feels convoluted and muddles the narrative and ultimately its message and ability to speak to the viewers.
The way it constructs its narrative feels almost abstract at times, but its execution leaves something to be desired. There are some interesting themes present in this story that don’t get fully fleshed out due to its ambitious nature. It has profound things to say about triumph in tragedy and the complicated effects of timely issues on people and their ecosystem. However, there are times where the movie doesn’t feel nearly as concerned with expounding on this as it is with trying to weave its convoluted retelling together.
Despite its shortcomings, there are still some great things happening. For one, even if I don’t agree with the execution, it’s undeniable that this director has a strong vision for his film, and he follows his gut. Even if it’s not for me, there are undoubtedly going to be plenty of people who admire it for it’s worth. In addition to this, the movie is beautifully shot and does a great job at framing and juxtaposing the beauty of nature and its destruction.
All That Breathes falls flat for me due to its incoherence throughout, but it still boasts a relevant and timely message at its heart. There is a distinct directorial vision with mileage that will vary by viewer. For those looking for a unique and unconventional narrative, this documentary might entertain you while informing you of a very important issue affecting India.
All That Breathes is in theaters October 21.