Sundance 2021 Review: In the Same Breath

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde


Anger is the overwhelming feeling that describes my experience viewing this documentary. As someone who has been personally affected by the death of a loved one from COVID, this viewing was not surprising, but painful to get through. Compared to 76 Days, the MTV produced, fly on the wall documentary about the early days of lockdown in Wuhan, In the Same Breath offers a much more critical perspective on how the events unfolded in China and caused a ripple effect around the world.

Billed as the documentary that “China doesn’t want you to see” Wang delved deep to uncover the “real story” behind the pandemic. The documentary starts with images of the 2020 New Year celebration in Wuhan or as Wang describes it “when life still felt normal.” On Jan 1st, an address by President Xi Jinping to celebrate the New Year was made on national TV. On the same day posts, allegedly, started circulating on social media that a new pneumonia was spreading around Wuhan.

The day the lockdown in Wuhan started on Jan 23, 2020, Wang was in the United States at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival promoting another, one of her projects with her husband, while her young son stayed in China with Wang’s mother. This personal story is the catalyst for the documentary as Wang detailed the government response to the virus. From there a series of, alleged, cover-ups included asking permission from officials to document the virus occurred every step of the way. Wang claimed that this was an intentional effort by the government and its propaganda arm to associate positive messages and not cause alarm about COVID19.

When Wang is focused on the governmental responses and compares the response in China and the one in the US the documentary is at its strongest. The personal stories about all the lives that were lost because of COVID19 are important but what Wang was trying to do here was tell a bigger story. She stated that “America was too advanced to be overwhelmed like China” and this actually seemed like reality until the number of cases skyrocketed in the US, during March 2020, and parts of the country went into lockdown. She also detailed that medical professionals in the US faced a similar type of resistance and pressure when they sounded the alarm about COVID19 at their hospitals as their Chinese counterparts. Some of them were even fired from their jobs.

In the closing moments, Wang argues that the idea of freedom is what attracted her to the US. She overlays this with videos of anti-lock down rallies across the US and comes to the conclusion that “ordinary people are casualties of leaders pursuit of power.” Albeit on the long end, I would recommend this documentary for anyone who wants a more critical perspective and less exploitative look into the “response” to COVID19.

In the Same Breath Trailer

In the Same Breath will be distributed by HBO Films on the HBO Platforms soon.


You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

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