Full disclosure: I went into “All That Breathes” (reviewed here for /Film by Caroline Cao) knowing nothing about it and it took an embarrassing amount of time before I realized that this was actually a documentary — not a fictional narrative. That’s how instantly engrossing and expertly filmed this Hindi-language true story is, focusing on two Indian brothers in Delhi, Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud, who run a makeshift animal clinic essentially out of their garage to nurse wounded and dying birds of prey back to health.
Working in such close quarters and with such low resources means the two frequently butt heads in the heat of the moment, but both know the true source of their misgivings. Their emergency services are only needed in the first place because of the dire air quality problems in the bustling Indian city, causing Black Kites to plunge from the skies on a regular basis. Compared to the gargantuan environmental issues in the sub-continent and the vitriolic political unrest serving as a backdrop, their tireless efforts would ordinarily feel swallowed up by much more pressing concerns. Luckily, these two caught the eye of director Shaunak Sen, who lends a brilliantly detached lens to the documentary that (mostly) steers clear of sensationalizing such important, ground-level work.
Much of the film emphasizes the connection between rampant urbanization and the natural world oftentimes scurrying by on the outskirts of our invasive human presence. As we watch the brothers navigate polluted floodwaters, provide for their families, apply for grants, and chase their own personal dreams, it transforms from a documentary about birds to a plea to step back, look around, and take stock of our collective impact on the world.
“All That Breathes” is currently streaming on HBO Max.