Shaunak Sen’s 'All That Breathes' Wins The Top Documentary Award At Cannes 2022

Shaunak Sen’s documentary 'All That Breathes' won the Golden Eye at Cannes

3 min read

Having won the World Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Shaunak Sen’s hauntingly beautiful documentary All That Breathes won The Golden Eye at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

Speaking to The Quint Sen said “We are beside ourselves with joy, and have barely processed it. Not least because some masters were showing in the same/aligned categories, and it was just an honour to show beside them. This was an unusually difficult film to make, taking over 3 years and alongside deep personal losses for the crew. We're thrilled that the film (and the astonishing story of the protagonists) is getting these honours.”


The Golden Eye jury comprised Agnieszka Holland, Iryna Tsilyk, Pierre Deladonchamps, Alex Vicente and Hicham Falah. The jury’s note said “The Golden Eye goes to a film that, in a world of destruction, reminds us that every life matters, and every small action matters. You can grab your camera, you can save a bird, you can hunt for some moments of stealing beauty, it matters. It’s an inspirational journey in observation of three Don Quixotes who may not save the whole world but do save their world.”

Sen was just back from the UK in 2018 when he observed a tiny lazy black dot in the sky sort of plummeting down. “The figure of a bird falling from the sky was moving and provocative in multiple ways. There is something about the tactile, heavy oppressive air of Delhi and the sort of grey texture that envelops the city which interested me and so I was obsessed with this trifecta of Birds, air and human."

With over 200 hours of footage to choose from, we follow the two brothers Nadeem and Saud and their cousin Salik in their derelict damp basement where the majestic kites lay vulnerable and are being slowly nursed back to health. “It’s the bipolarity of the space which I found was inherently cinematic. The brothers became a symptom of ecological and social malaise, the relationship between the tiny basement and the sky."

Speaking about the visual language of the documentary Sen explained how he relied on 3 basic pillars. “One was the traditional observational verité style that helps in capturing a sense of everydayness. The second was what allows for magic realism. So flowy images with a voiceover that we employed to mine the past and give it a dreamy folklorish feel. The third was how we shot the animals. The idea was to show a kind of simultaneity of human and non-human life jostling cheek by jowl in the city. Rats, turtle, pigs, slow languid pans that tempers the audience into realizing that their patience has to be customized in a specific sort of way”.

Even though All that Breathes is set against the backdrop of religious strife, and the Citizenship bill protests, Shaunak Sen feels it's not a frontal relationship with the political but the exploration of the human condition that was the main focus.

As for his plans after the big Cannes win Sen says that though he is interested in fiction he has never worked in Bombay. “I am petrified of the behemoth that is Bombay. Non-fiction is something I’m comfortable in. I understand the circuit.”

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