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The Breadwinner – Movie Review

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The Breadwinner – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Animation is capable of so much more than audiences give it credit for, which is obvious to anyone exploring the international scene. The Breadwinner is one such example of the versatility and outreach of animation. Based on Deborah Ellis’s novel of the same name, the decision could have been made it to film it in live-action. However, by having director Nora Twomey and Irish studio Cartoon Saloon make it in animation, they are afforded more freedom to show the hardships and violence in Afghanistan. Done in a unique hand-drawn style, The Breadwinner works as a feminist story as we focus on the point-of-view of a young girl in a war torn country.

Twomey brings us into Afghanistan and the difficulties faced by Parvana and her family. There’s an immediate sympathy there and the stakes are placed even higher upon the decision she makes to pretend to be a boy. One never knows when something dangerous will happen around the corner, but Twomey doesn’t just cloud the entire film in darkness. Through Parvana’s friendship with a fellow disguised girl, Twomey shows her optimism that she can succeed at fooling the Taliban that constantly watch her neighbourhood like hawks. Twomey also shows her tricky home life and that she has regular sibling relationships and rivalries like most people, regardless of nationality and class.

The violence feels much harsher in animation and Twomey doesn’t shy away from it. There is no sugarcoating the more villainous characters and the worry facing Parvana and her family, after their patriarch is taken away. That drives the desperation she faces as she makes every risky choice in order to find him. As the story progresses, more planes fly overhead, upping the tension and uncertainty. One gets the sense of how one never knows when a day will be their last. Yet Twomey also allows time for quiet moments of reflection between the violence, the necessary calm before things get worse.

The animation has a more stylish and angular hand-drawn look than we’re accustomed to seeing, even in decades of the medium. It shows Cartoon Saloon’s skills and it’s remarkable seeing the differences between The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea and now The Breadwinner. Where the film’s visual palette opens up is during the story-within-the-story as Parvana escapes her harsh realities with fantasy. Suddenly, the film is more colourful and vibrant and surreal and one understands her need to tell these tales. However, the film also stops whenever these sequences arise. Parvana’s story is so involving that those portions feel like interruptions to the narrative. Their placements make sense from a thematic standpoint, but they affect the flow of the picture.

The Breadwinner is purposely harsh, as it should be. This is not a happy-go-lucky animated feature, although there are moments of light that occasionally emerge. Nora Twomey seeks to show the harsh realities of a world so far away from us and by portraying it in animation, that actually enhances the story in many ways. The choice of medium allows The Breadwinner to stand out from the pack and be more attention grabbing. It showcases that the medium can accomplish so much more than merely the funny animals animation is stereotypically known for. This is the kind of film that one certainly wishes will find a greater audience, beyond animation enthusiasts who are already predestined to seek it out.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison