A scene from director Nanfu Wang’s documentary ‘In the Same Breath’ (Courtesy of HBO).
Deeply personal, complex and timely, “In the Same Breath” charts the initial outbreak of novel coronavirus in Wuhan, while paralleling the Chinese reaction to the outbreak with the US. Chinese-born filmmaker Nanfu Wang has created an unsettling window into the early days of the crisis and food for thought about how government, under each system, responded.Wang (who directed the 2019 Netflix documentary “One Child Nation”) was actually in China celebrating the New Year in January 2020, returning to the US, where she currently resides, as reports of the virus’ impact emerged.Working with local journalists and videographers, she has compiled a striking collection of footage — including some surreptitiously shot inside hospitals — reflecting the chaotic response and uncertainty, the terrible toll on residents and the government’s efforts to spin and obscure what was happening in self-serving, propagandistic ways.
It’s a devastating portrait of the Chinese government — and the happy-talk news pushed out through its media — reinforcing that there has yet to be a full accounting of the true death toll Covid exacted during that first wave of cases. The government’s determination to control the narrative includes police visiting those who dared speak out about local conditions, and the grief experienced by families who lost loved ones.
Fears of a knock on the door are evident in conversations with hospital personnel, some of whom speak through the anonymity of heavy protective gear. Even in those instances it’s hard not to wonder how identifiable some might be, given references to what they witnessed and experienced.