Review by Camden Ferrell
In the Same Breath is a new documentary detailing the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Chinese and American response to the virus in early 2020. This is a topic that is timely and essential for our times. It is directed by Nanfu Wang who most recently directed the critically acclaimed film One Child Nation. This is a documentary that details the early days of the pandemic with some shocking footage and commentary.
This movie begins on January 1, 2020, in Wuhan, China. The news reports about the punishment of Chinese citizens spreading rumors of an unknown pneumonia. From there, Wang uses local cinematographers to document how the virus is affecting the Chinese population and how the government is responding to the threat. This is a narrative we’re all too familiar with, but Wang shockingly pulls back the curtain on what occurred in China in early 2020.
The footage is captured well, and it’s a testament to their courage as we learn continuously of the Chinese government’s attempt to suppress footage. The footage gives us an inside look into the hospital and communities as the virus ravages its population. It’s shocking and quite horrifying at times, and it is a heavy watch after all this world has endured in this pandemic.
Wang once again proves she’s one of the most talented documentary filmmakers working today. It’s not only the footage captured that makes the movie great, but it’s how she crafts it into a compelling and all too powerful narrative. She is able to maintain pace fairly well throughout and she provides a lot of interviews and narration to fill in the narrative blanks.
COVID-19 media can be off-putting especially in this time, but this is essential viewing. It doesn’t exploit the tragedy of the pandemic; it feels wholly necessary especially in this time. It’s full of timely themes and warnings of what’s to come, and it’s a haunting reminder of how things could have gone differently in early 2020.
In the Same Breath is a great documentary that confirms Wang’s talents as a filmmaker. If there’s only one COVID documentary you watch, this is a great candidate. It is a seething indictment of the Chinese (as well as American) response to the virus, and it’s even more horrifying to watch in the latter half of 2021.
In the Same Breath is streaming on HBO August 18.