“In the Same Breath” is Wang’s greatest documentary to date, and yet it has the undeniable guidance of Wang’s approach to storytelling. It’s informative about what Wuhan looked like during the early days when the coronavirus spread without the general public’s knowledge, and incisive when it comes to government. (A photo of nine state-backed Chinese news channels reading strict script in unison is particularly frightening.) This sense of misinformation naturally leads to outrage and a sense of horror. “In the Same Breath” is of course a tough watch, but it’s a must-have for its expansive and sincere perspective on this global catastrophe.
What’s especially amazing about this film is the scope and poignant character that nonetheless defines many sequences that could fill separate documentaries. Wang covers both China and America with different experiences of medical workers and those who have suffered terrible losses. Portions of the film are brought to life with pure emotion, documenting the faces of healthcare workers as they share traumatic experiences of their work while battling the virus. “In the Same Breath” can have a cathartic effect, watching people remove from their chests things that have been buried by their duty, or forcefully by the government (in China and America). You can easily imagine the four hour cut of this movie focusing more on people’s faces, finally leaving some feelings behind, and that movie would be just as awesome.
In other passages, Wang shares his outrage – however muted – with a strong dynamic of reality versus fiction. While one may be aware of both the toll of COVID-19 and the fact that people are denying it, Wang makes a heavy and tragic statement about this news disconnect by showing the two sides in detail. She’s not a provocative filmmaker, but she wants you to sit still with the pain of COVID, showing many faces suffering from something countless others will call ‘the flu’.