VOD film review: The Breadwinner
James R | On 24, Dec 2018
Director: Nora Twomey
Cast: Saara Chaudry
If there were ever any doubt, after The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, that Cartoon Saloon are one of the most exciting animation studios in the world right now, The Breadwinner confirms it. Based on the novel by Deborah Ellis, it tells the story of a young girl who lives in Afghanistan in 2001 and has to dress like a boy to survive.
The girl in question is 11-year-old Parvana (Saara Chaudry), who is distraught to find her father taken away by the Taliban, which leaves her family with no way to earn a living. And so she cuts off her hair and ventures out in the society to find work and money, and, with a bit of luck, find her father again. It’s a bold, radical step for the whole family, given that they’re all not allowed to go out in public without a man, and the stark reality of that challenge becomes apparent immediately, as we see Parvana and her mother pleading for help and sympathy from shopkeepers and officials. Even before her father is whisked away, Parvana has been the subject of people talking about marrying her.
Director Nora Twomey weaves the ensuing quest with a magical thread, one that balances between painful realism and stylish innocence – it’s like watching Where Is the Friend’s Home? by way of Pan’s Labyrinth. With Twomey at the helm, Angelina Jolie and Mimi Polk Gitlin exec-producing and Ellis’ original text based on an interview with a mother and a girl who disguised herself in a refugee camp, this is a resounding female-led and female-driven tale, and the whole project is fuelled by Parvana’s own perspective. And so her act of relating to her younger brother fairy tales of nature and elephant kings takes hold of the whole frame – these sequences blend the simple but powerful lines of this grounded city world with stylish, lush visuals of shadow-puppet-like escapism. They also fuse her struggle with the nation’s own tumultuous history, from invasion and a coup to a civil war.
The result is a deftly drawn, powerfully moving companion piece to Persepolis, which finds courage in youth, imagination in oppression and liberation in the power of storytelling itself.