AIFF: In The Same Breathe

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In the Same Breath (Available April 16-17)

A man widely opens his mouth, pressing so hard against his mask that indentations remain. He strains to say, “no oxygen,” while slowly asphyxiating, but health care workers cannot hear or help him. Later, the documentary cuts to a scene where the Chinese people “celebrate” the end of chaos during an official ceremony in a positively pandemic display that the filmmaker calls, “turning disaster into propaganda.”

The title, In the Same Breath, is an idiom meaning to speak or act in a way that is simultaneously dichotomous or contradictory. It is a clever turn of phrase for this personal account of an overwhelming infectious virus—COVID—still affecting humans across the globe physically, emotionally, politically, socially, and spiritually.

At the crux of this powerful movie is a direct blow to the concept of freedom capable of taking everyone’s breath away.

Does the Americans pursuit of freedom protect or entrap those defending it? Is democracy promising more choices better than authoritarianism which limits them? The filmmakers, Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, ask powerful questions punctuated with images and dialogue that pack an emotional punch. Wang would know since she spent most of her life under authoritarian rule in China but now lives in New York and has endured the Pandemic in both countries after traveling to visit family there in 2020.

In the span of one year from New Year’s Eve of 2019 to the next holiday celebration in 2020, the filmmakers take the viewer on a journey that reveals facts and information one would not, and could not, have ascertained through mainstream media. Brave cameramen and women risked harm from the virus, and government alike, to document happenings inside hospitals and in the streets of Wuhan. Through segments, the viewer gets a glimpse into the manipulative messages provided by authorities in both the United States and China.

This one hour and thirty-seven-minute film does not allow one to escape into a single plot or story but offers accounts that are horrendous, horrifying, and utterly guttural in presentation. But it does reiterate that no one can hide, whether wearing a mask or not, and that government plays a significant role in public health. VANESSA NEWMAN


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