The story two brothers explores the consequences of human existence
In All That Breathes, Shaunal Sen’s poetic mode of documentary filmmaking provides an atypical perspective on man and beast’s survival amidst a politically and environmentally unstable climate. The film’s nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the 95th Academy Awards last month and its February wide-release on HBO Max launched it into public notoriety.
Brothers Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad began their veterinary careers twenty years ago, after opening an aviary clinic/soap dispenser company in Wazirabad, New Delhi. The siblings’ love of animals worked in tandem with the Indian-Islamic belief that nourishing the kites of the Indian subcontinent purges one of distress. In one of Earth’s most polluted metropolises, the brothers have averaged an annual rehabilitation rate of a thousand birds, despite a severely underfunded work environment. Because of this, few possess the understanding of climate change’s rapid effects on wildlife like these brothers. Their patients are falling from the city’s statically smogged skyline at an alarming rate.
Rising sea levels, extreme poverty, overpopulation, and even nuclear contamination initially connote an almost apocalyptic landscape. The film’s opening, a panoramic single take, speaks volumes to this ecosystem. What is initially a pleasant skyline keeps sinking until the reality of Delhi is displayed in the form of thousands of rats feeding off of a seemingly endless supply of garbage in a public park: an ecological disaster, but one still teaming with life. Sen asserts that even the most poisoned regions are still subject to the laws of nature and are therefore capable of new forms of interconnectedness. As a result, focus is given to nature’s adaptation to the anthropocene. Saud explains how the kites have begun communicating in higher frequencies due to noise pollution and line their nests with cigarette butts as insect repellent.
The religious and occupational identities of Shehzad and Saud seem to have equal influence in their lives. As India currently experiences increasing islamophobic violence, the brothers must face a danger as omnipresent as the animals they care for. Horrific hate crimes are committed, without threat of repercussion, just blocks from their home.
Sen doesn’t appear to occupy himself with any messages fatalistic or hopeful. The most present themes in All That Breathes are of existence itself. Whether our existence will lead to the destruction or rehabilitation of the planet, time will tell. But if our animals cannot survive our planet’s current conditions, what can mankind expect from consuming the same air?
If you ever wondered who is truly threatened by climate change, you need only read the title of this film.