PLAYWAVE CREATIVE REVIEW: THE BREADWINNER
Reviewed by Nicole Pingon
“Stories remain in our hearts even after all else is gone.”
Adapted from Deborah Ellis’ 2000 Young Adult novel of the same name, the film follows 11-year-old Parvana (brilliantly voiced by Canadian newcomer Saara Chaudry) as she navigates life within the oppressive Taliban-era Afghanistan. In a society where women are prohibited to be outside without a male family member, Parvana quickly grows to understand the misogyny and chauvinism that pervades the world around her, forcing her to mature far beyond her years.
As Parvana’s understanding of her world develops, so does our own. Her character is well-rounded, embodying a youthfulness, strength and courage that inspires us, and inevitably makes us root for her from the get go. We’re with her as she’s confronted with everyday hardships of a looming war, and expectations of what it means to be a good daughter, sister, and woman in an increasingly fundamental male dominated world.
“When you're a boy, you can go anywhere you like.”
After Parvana’s father is taken away, she realises the bittersweet reality that she must disguise herself as a boy to keep her family alive. Parvana crosses paths with Shauzia (voiced by Soma Chhaya), another young girl in disguise, and together they experience a vibrant, bustling life that they would never get to live as girls. Their shared dream of going to the ocean, ambition and hard work opens them to a whole new world of adventure and liberation they didn’t even know was possible.
Director, Nora Twomey and screenwriter, Anita Doron are undoubtedly committed to the cultural authenticity of Ellis’ book, despite the passing of time since its publication; with the fall and resurgence of the Taliban, 9/11, and the rise of Isis. While expanding the narrative in adventurous ways, Twomey acknowledges the complexity of the topic, and doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of 2000’s Afghanistan. Although this makes for some particularly bleak moments, it’s refreshing to watch a film that doesn’t conceal reality from younger audiences. Rather, it shares a tough story in a way that’s accessible to audiences of all ages, showcasing the power of animation.
The team behind this film is widespread, comprising of an international collaboration between Cartoon Saloon (Ireland), Aircraft Pictures (Canada), and Technicolour (Luxembourg). Animated by Irish animation studio, Cartoon Saloon, The Breadwinner carries a soft eloquence in its line drawn illustrations and muted colours, capturing a realistic image of Afghanistan’s war-torn landscape.
This realism was contrasted to the whimsical and somewhat theatrical nature of Parvana’s story-telling sequences, utilising paper-cut stop motion animation to explore folklore and the power of the imagination. These playful sequences reflected Parvana’s escape from her bleak reality, and quickly become one of my favourite elements of this film, really resonating as a reminder of the importance of imagination and creativity.
The Breadwinner succeeds in its command of Parvana’s story, fluidly moving between imagination and reality, keeping the two plotlines closely intertwined and paralleled throughout the entire film. The connection between the two distinct worlds was supported by Mychael and Jeff Danna’s compelling sonic landscape, capturing regional Eastern sounds, while encapsulating motifs of a traditional Western film score. However the film’s strength also led to one of its weaknesses, with many secondary character storylines left loose. I would have loved slightly more development of the other characters and their stories - finding out more about Shauzia’s family life, Parvana’s sister, and why the bully was the way he was.
Regardless, in many ways The Breadwinner is a spiritual cinematic experience. It’s heartwarming, yet heartbreaking, its beauty evenly matched with its despair. It celebrates the defiant spirit of women, deals with confronting issues with sensibility and respect, and shares the importance of humility, hard work, resourcefulness, kindness, creativity and strength.
This is definitely a story that will remain within my heart.