“The Breadwinner” (2017) FILM REVIEW
Written by Jambareeqi
Posted 26th May, 2018
“The Breadwinner” is an animated Canadian-Irish-Luxembourg Co-Production from Cartoon Saloon, the Irish studio behind such films as “The Secret of Kells” and “The Song of the Sea”. Set in a Taliban ruled Afghanistan, it tells the tale of a little girl called Parvana, whose father ends up being taken to Prison, leaving the family to struggle financially, because it is forbidden for females to leave their homes. In a bold move, Parvana cuts her hair, dons her deceased brother’s old clothes, changes her name to Aatish, and starts using her new male identity to support her family. At the same time, she learns that she can bribe the prison to free her father, so she saves up money for this incentive, and hopes to afford a bribe big enough to blackmail the Taliban.
I really enjoy films that take me out of comfort zone, to help me empathise with those outside my own world, and “The Breadwinner” does just that. Watching this film, I discovered that being a woman in a Taliban ruled Afghanistan must have been downright terrifying; because of your low ranking status, the lack of freedom you had, and the constant fear of aggressive armed authority figures. Not only that, there was the ever present threat of war, in a land already ravaged by past battles, with tank graveyards reminding our characters of their culture’s history.
With these details in mind, I became amazed by the character of Parvana, whose courage and perseverance is astounding! Yes, she’s scared about risking her life, but who wouldn’t be? It’s the fact that she knows that she can pull off being a boy, embraces the opportunity with little hesitation, working herself hard to support her family and save her imprisoned father. Even when she’s beaten down or rejected, she continues fighting on, believing with all her heart that she can accomplish anything, while also enjoying the pleasures of being recognised as a boy. Her heroism is so inspiring, that it ends up rubbing off on the rest of her family, when they are forced into a position where they must defend themselves, and that’s beautifully moving.
I felt so tense while watching this movie, always aware that this young girl could be caught at any moment, wishing for her safety every time she left the house, and sympathising with her family’s worries about her. One false move, one little slip up, then the bag is up, and who knows what would happen? Some of the men in charge are terrifying, so any moment where Parvana comes inches from being caught, is intensely overwhelming, to the point where my heart raced and my body froze.
Luckily, not everyone outside Parvana’s family is an antagonist. There’s a girl called Shauzia, who is sharing labour jobs with Parvana, and hopes to save up enough money to leave the city in a bid to escape her abusive father. It’s really touching to see that Parvana isn’t alone in her disguise routine, with Shauzia by her side for advice about pretending to be a boy, while also supporting her risky goals, and the two of them develop a heart moving bond that’s adorably charming.
There’s also Razaq, an illiterate man who ends up hiring Parvana to teach him to read & write, he’s one of the more sympathetic male figures, willing to risk his own life to help Paravana and her family. Without these two characters, maybe Parvana may have seemed more vulnerable, but I think they add some much needed humanity to this community, and prove that there’s good out there.
Parvana’s family seem understandably conflicted about letting their little girl pull this stunt, both knowing that it’s a last resort, and aware that it’s a dangerous responsibility for a child. Even though they’ll sometimes argue or fight, while suffering from their hardships, this family still dearly love eachother, and do all they can to look out for one another. It’s inspiring to see a family living in this culture, still appreciating what little food or water they have, never wanting more than basic needs, and still being spiritually faithful to the very religion that the Taliban are using to control them.
In terms of the visuals and sounds, this is one beautiful looking movie, using gorgeous handdrawn animation to it’s story, while employing stunning Middle Eastern music to capture the Afghan atmosphere. It’s so easy to get immersed in this film, because so much artistic effort has been put into the production, with affectionate soulful love etched into every frame or composition. The art style is somewhat realistic, to match the seriousness of the overall tone, but it’s also slightly exaggerated, to justify the use of the animation medium.
Throughout the film, Parvana is also telling her family her own story, the tale of a little boy’s quest to defeat an evil elephant, and save his people from a crop disaster. This subplot isn’t here for filler or padding, it exists to mirror Parvana’s life, to keep her family’s spirits up, and give Parvana the courage needed to carry on her daring mission. This tale she’s invented also gives the movie some humour & colour, with it’s gorgeously vibrant cut out animation, and tongue in cheek silly imagination. I never got frustrated when the film switched it’s attention to this story, because it plays into the main plot, reinforces the themes of the film, and is simply a really well told tale.
To Conclude, “The Breadwinner” is a breathtakingly intelligent film about perseverance, gender identity, and family love. It’s a very inspiring sit, that educates audiences about Afghan history, addressing the brutality and hypocrisy of the Taliban, while still providing a tale of uplifting female heroism in a male dominated society. It made me confront my own privileges, opened my eyes to the suffering outside my culture, taught me about Afghan family values, and inspired me to be just as tenacious as the film’s heroine. If you can, try to go see this movie, whether it’s just reached your local indie cinema or is currently available on DVD/Blu-Ray at a nearby shop, because films like this need to be encouraged in the animation industry.
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