Sundance Review: All That Breathes

Black kites in the sky

In ancient Egypt, it is said that the god Isis would take the form of a kite in order to resurrect the dead. In Islam, it is said that if you feed pieces of meat to these birds, they will swallow your worries and problems. The black kite, unlike many of its kin, is a scavenger. Soaring through the air, using thermals to hover in the skies, looking for their next opportunity for a tasty meal. They play an important role in many cultures.

Black kites are a familiar sight in the skies of New Delhi. They form part of the fabric of everyday life, their distinctive loud chatter almost ubiquitous. People come to feed the birds, but all is not well. The increasingly polluted air and noxious environment is putting them in danger. Two brothers, Saud and Nadee, have made it their mission to help these winged creatures. All That Breathes follows them in this quest.

All That Breathes tackles the myriad of social issues impacting modern India, including religious persecution and poverty, through the struggle of these brothers to nurse injured birds back to health. Shaunak Sen’s film focuses on their (often) fractious relationship, using it as a base to investigate wider themes. It’s beautifully shot and feels almost magical at times, contrasting the natural majesty of the kites against a terribly polluted and rundown city. All That Breathes is an almost lyrical portrait of our self-destruction.

All That Breathes screens at Sundance Film Festival.

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