UK Release Date: 25th May 2018
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Nora Twomey
Writer: Anita Doron, Deborah Ellis
Starring: Saara Chaudry, Soma Bhatia, Laara Sadiq, Ali Badshah, Shaista Latif, Kawa Ada, Noorin Gulamgaus
Synopsis: An Afghan girl pretends to be a boy in order to provide for her family after her father is arrested for possessing forbidden texts and educating his female relatives.
Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon has produced three feature films to date, and all three of them have been nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Their latest movie, which has already managed that feat, is The Breadwinner – set in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. It’s not a straightforward animated film aimed at children and instead chooses to tell an important story of the violent, misogynistic Talbian regime that has real relevance for audiences of all ages.
The audience first meets Parvana (Saara Chaudry) in the Kabul market with her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah). A confrontation with a Taliban soldier leads to a personal vendetta that sees Nurullah arrested and tossed into prison, leaving his wife Fattema (Laara Sadiq) to fend for herself and her three children in a society where women are not allowed outside without a man to accompany them. Parvana decides to go all Mulan and dress as a boy to help keep the family afloat and soon meets another girl in exactly the same position (Soma Bhatia), with whom she becomes friends.
One of the most interesting things about The Breadwinner is the frankness with which it confronts potentially difficult subject matter. This is an animated movie for families, but it’s one that features brutal beatings, stark scenes of discrimination and the constant sense of foreboding that accompanies the inevitable march towards war. Indeed, the roar of fighter jets streaking overhead becomes increasingly frequent as the movie moves inexorably towards its violent conclusion.
Even in the midst of this broad strokes message, though, the movie never loses sight of its characters. Chaudry is brilliant as the headstrong youngster at the centre of the story, who is idealistic and keen to change the world. She’s also adept at spinning a yarn and the film’s action is framed alongside Parvana’s telling of a story pitting a dancing young man against an evil, mountain-dwelling elephant. The Breadwinner‘s world is one in which fiction and reality are mirrors of each other, right from the moment Parvana’s father reminds her that “everything changes and stories remind us of that”.
The prospect of change is a key theme of the film, whether it’s in the way a seemingly psychotic Taliban soldier proves to be all talk when the arrival of a real war shakes him to his core or the way the film’s women are gradually pushing the boundaries of the tight rules imposed upon them. When Parvana and her friend Shauzia discuss their lot in life, there’s a pregnant and meaningful pause after the latter says that “it’s just the way it is”, as if both girls know intuitively that something seismic is about to take place.
It’s when those seismic events begin to bite that The Breadwinner slightly fumbles the ball and fails to stick the landing. The fictional and literal threads interweave and mingle in a tense series of interlinked set pieces that form a picture which is slightly too muddled to allow the final emotional beats to hit as hard as they should. For much of its running time, though, this is a vital and powerful story, told through the prism of some absolutely beautiful big screen animation.
Pop or Poop?
It proves to be slightly too much of a tangled web in its final moments, but The Breadwinner is a touching and troubling movie that confronts the rough reality of life for women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The voice performances are uniformly impressive and the animation conjures a palpable sense of the dust and isolation of the world these characters inhabit. We are currently in a golden age of animation, and the guys at Cartoon Saloon are a huge part of that.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.