Blu-ray Review: All That Breathes | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, July 21st, 2024  

All That Breathes

Studio: Janus Contemporaries

Jun 14, 2024 Web Exclusive Photography by Janus Contemporaries/The Criterion Collection Bookmark and Share

Director Shaunak Sen’s Academy Award nominated documentary, All That Breathes, is—above all else—an exercise in learning how to pay attention and behold.

The film focuses on Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad, two brothers from New Delhi who rescue black kites—birds of prey who often fall dead or sick due to the polluted skies—and nurse them back to health. In tracing the brothers’ quotidian rhythms as they bandage, feed, and care for countless birds, Sen weaves in a larger commentary about our relationship to the environment and reminds us not think of ourselves as above than the creatures around us, but instead, as one part of an interconnected whole.

The bonus features of Janus Contemporaries’ release are essential in contextualizing what Sen outlined in the documentary. Most notably, the release includes a never-before-seen 17 minute interview with Sen, where the director breaks down his aesthetic choices for the film and explains what makes the narrative style of All That Breathes so beautifully distinct from other types of documentaries. Sen shared that, after working on his 2016 film Cities of Sleep, he wanted to make a film that was cinematic and “use the tools of fiction to tell a nonfiction story.” In the interview he decries the binary that is often drawn between nonfiction and fiction genres. He claims that nonfiction genres, perhaps burdened by the need to communicate the importance of the issue being explored, sacrifices cinematic beauty for a sort of brutal realism. With All That Breathes, Sen desired to not have the theme get in the way of craft and prioritized how to tell his story at an enchanting and poetic register. Beyond just a documentary, he describes his film as a sort of “cinematic nonfiction.”

The result is a film that feels like a mix between traditional documentary styles of filmmaking and the slow cinema of masters like Victor Kossakovsky or Andrei Tarkovsky. Take the opening shot of the film, which focuses on a vacant parking lot in New Delhi during the evening. Cinematographers Ben Bernhard’s, Riju Das’, and Saumyananda Sahi’s camera moves at a punishingly slow pace, almost inviting viewers to do double and triple takes at the seemingly barren landscape on-screen. Slowly but surely, we see various types of critters emerge from the lot, from millipedes to rodents, and the once still landscape is revealed to be a thriving ecosystem of various creatures. It’s not the first time Sen’s film will focus on a seemingly-still moment and let the camera linger for a second or two too long, thus allowing viewers to then take notice of something that may have been previously hidden. The colors are much more distinct on the Blu-Ray and allow audiences to better catch the hidden permutations of life that exist in every frame. Another striking moment features a puddle in the middle of the street, with water bugs darting across its surface. The pristine quality of the picture combined with the amplified 5.1 surround sound makes these quiet moments much more enveloping.

In addition to the interview, there’s also a DVD insert featuring some of the most stunning and beautiful stills from the film as well as an essay from writer and collage artist Michael Joshua Rowin entitled “All That Breathes: The Simultaneity of Life,” where he breaks down how the feeling of awe one feels when watching the film that makes it so powerful. ”It’s about not treating the human as an absolute reference point but enlarging your perspective,” he writes.

Those who were enraptured in 2022 will find much to love in Janus Contemporaries’ release of the film. Not only are the subtle textures and story of the film amplified through its sound and 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but the added interview with director Shaunak Sen as well as Michael Joshua Rowin’s essay expand and add greater context for viewers to better appreciate the themes of wildlife care, environmental stewardship, and spiritual interconnectivity as evidenced through Mohammad and Nadeem’s work. Regardless of where you’re rooted, you’ll be tempted to find the beauty that exists all around you. As All That Breathes shows, it doesn’t take much work; all you have to do is look.



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