Director: Nora Twomey
Writers: Anita Doron and Deborah Ellis
Starring: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus
Genre: Drama / Animation
In 2001 Afghanistan is under Taliban rule, and after the wrongful arrest of her father and only living male family member, 11-year-old Parvana (Chaudry) cuts her hair and dresses like a boy to be able to support her family. Drawing strength from the fantastical stories that she invents, Parvana embarks on a quest to find her father.
We are indeed currently in a golden age of animation, and this is not just down to the technical achievements of big budget studios like Pixar and DreamWorks or the wonderful Studio Ghibli, but also the likes of Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, who have produced the wonderfully magical hand-drawn films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea with their own unique style of animation produced on much smaller budgets than that of the bigger animation studios. While their previous two films told stories based in Irish folk tales, The Breadwinner is of course a very different film in terms of both its setting and story, and has a bigger budget, yet those involved have still managed to craft a visually stunning and wonderfully engaging film that skilfully blends the brutal and unflinching reality of its setting with a sense of magic and wonder, and a focus on core human values at its centre.
The Breadwinner is a film that may be animated but does not flinch from depicting its setting of modern day Kabul with brutal and raw honesty, and this is allows the film’s narrative to tackle head on some of the current issues that this very troubled country faces, in particular its current treatment of women. Yet The Breadwinner never feels preachy or patronising, and allows these very modern issues to feel like a very natural part of the film’s narrative and the arc of its protagonist. It is this unflinching and raw honesty that helps to make the main story of the film so deeply engaging, but also serves to make sure that the fantasy element of the story is appropriate and enhances the main themes of the main narrative. Indeed, the fantasy element is the tool the main character often uses to deal with the real-life issues she faces or to help other members of her family deal with, or sometimes completely forget about their current situation, and it is used sparingly to maximise its emotional effect.
Irrelevant of whether it is animated and indeed how it is animated, at the centre of The Breadwinner is a great character driven story that is not afraid to confront some very human and sobering real-life issues with a brutal and unflinching honesty. The result is a deeply engaging human story that will tug at the heartstrings of viewers of all ages. Though us from the western world may not be able to share the experiences of the protagonist, thanks to the skilful and delicately observed storytelling, we can truly empathise with her and want with all our hearts for her to succeed in her mission that may be motivated by very simple and relatable goals, but the danger that it will bring is never underestimated.
As the story goes along, the film is not afraid to take some darker (but always tonally appropriate) developments, and it builds to a climax of raw emotional power that will linger long in the memory. The animation may be simple on a technical level compared to the big budget studios, but it is still wonderfully put together and depicts the world of its characters perfectly, while the sublime score by Mychaal Danna and Jeff Danna further enhances the emotional engagement. The Breadwinner is a stunningly beautiful and deeply engaging film that will captivate the hearts and minds of viewers of all ages.
Yet another stunning film from Cartoon Saloon; The Breadwinner is a visually stunning yet also unashamedly realistic depiction of its narrative setting and is an emotionally engaging film that will tug at the heart strings of all viewers.