Unlike other reviews on this list, I won’t be scoring anything from this film. It doesn’t feel right to judge its content. Critiquing this film would undermine the intended message and purpose of this phenomenal story.
Based on the acclaimed novel otherwise known as Parvana written by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner (2017) is the third animated film created by Cartoon Saloon. Known for other beautiful animated films like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner was Nora Twomey‘s directional debut and the studio’s first feature not based on Irish culture.
It takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan, under Taliban rule. Its main character Parvana gives us a unique perspective on her and her family’s everyday life as women abused by their male leaders. She watches as Taliban officers arrest her father, handicapped in the Soviet–Afghan War, after allegations of rebellion. Unable to support themselves without a supervising male in their family, Parvana, her mother, sister, and infant brother are essentially left to die. Because of this, Parvana dresses as a boy to take care of them and find her father before it is too late.
This story’s message on abuse and real-life trials confronts the world head-on. Parvana’s family’s situation isn’t sugar-coated or avoided. They meet cruel people and live in a society that undervalues women and controls its people through force and fear.
It is almost impossible to ignore how the Taliban cruelly treat women. Women can’t leave their homes unsupervised or uncovered, receive an education, or travel without male consent. I shuddered when I thought of how small their worlds were. They could not even buy food on their own.
In one scene, Parvana and her mother leave their home in search of her father. But, on their way to the prison, men stop them, and after cruelly demeaning her mother for being outside without a male guardian, the men beat her mother and charge her to return home lest worse should befall her. What made this scene all the more crushing was the fact her mother was once an esteemed writer. But at that moment, she was helpless to do or be anything.
But it isn’t as though all men are evil. There are men like her father, many of the stall owners, and Razaq, a man she befriends and teaches to read and write, who see how the world has changed for evil. No, in this story, writers presented audiences with a people, not unlike the Germans during Nazi rule, forced to comply with the changes befalling them all and watch as horribly misguided men mistreated the innocent. The Taliban hurriedly punished anyone who confronted them or stepped out of line. Many, like Parvana’s mother, they punished through shameful beatings. Most usurpers they took to prison, their family members never able to see them again.
Execution and Characters:
This story held me spellbound until the very end. Somewhat similar to characters I have encountered from Hayao Miyazaki films, Parvana and the others felt very real to me. Watching the short documentary “Hayao Miyazaki- The Essence of Humanity” not too long ago, I reflected on those characters in films that have stuck with me over the years. Like Miyazaki, I think director Twomey and her animators created very believable characters in this movie.
They did this by showing simple everyday acts and movements. Sometimes missing from animation are these seemingly meaningless actions that give characters depth. Scenes from this film like the family sitting for dinner, selling goods at the market, or even walking down the streets in silence rounded out this story, rooting it in reality but also amplifying it through beautiful animation.
Amidst the real-life events are also the unforgettable story exerts Parvana tells to her brother and friends until the film’s conclusion. Based on her own brother Sulayman, who died after accidentally picking up a land mine, the boy in the story also embarks on his own journey to save his people and right the wrongs inflicted by the elephant king.
This film significantly showed that no matter how dark circumstances may seem, there are heroes who rise and fight against evil. Sometimes these heroes MUST be us. There were small joyful moments that counteracted the dark times the characters must face. Whether it was supporting her family financially, eating sugar candies, or finding her lost father, I was so happy to see Parvana’s circumstances did not destroy her and her family.
But I don’t think this movie had a resolution. It ends with a sunset, her mother, sister, and younger brother escaping captivity, and Parvana taking her father home. Even though Parvana’s family could be together again, war still loomed over them. Their world was still cruel and was daily turning darker.
Then again, for that moment at the film’s end, they had won the battle. I think this story’s message focuses on winning these small battles of life. The world will not change all at once, but through perseverance and courage, small changes cause ripples. And slowly, the shadows pass away and leave room for happy times.
It is like Sam Gamgee said in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, “Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. “
All in all, this story was a truly terrific, wild thing. Its execution was incredibly riveting. Cartoon Salon gets better at filmmaking after each feature they complete.
I don’t think the animation is the true highlight for this film. Scenes from Parvana’s story, along with certain scenes near the climax, caught my attention in their details. Otherwise, I didn’t feel the animators accomplished anything groundbreaking.
However, I must mention how beautifully they created the backgrounds and atmosphere of Parvana’s tale. I felt as though I was experiencing a story from Afghanistan. I lived and breathed it throughout the movie. Like their pasts films, these Irish animators have a gift for giving viewers true, cultural experiences through imagery and story.
I never take too long to talk about music, but I want to mention how impressed I was with the score. Composed by Academy and Golden Globe winner Mychael Danna, known best for his score for Life of Pi (2012), I listened and re-listened to Mychael and his co-writer Jeff Danna’s soundtrack and am in awe of how well they set the tone for such an inspiring story. (I thought when I first listened, it sounded a lot like Life of Pi‘s score, and I am pleased my musical ear hasn’t become rusty. )
I highly recommend this movie to those who love to watch biographies and experience middle-eastern culture. I have reflected a lot these past few months on my impressions of this film and am glad I could see it. Its story is thoroughly engaging, its animation the highest quality, its music astounding, and message of the utmost importance.
I really don’t feel it is right to grade this movie. Sometimes it is best to sit back and experience films. When I watched first it, I didn’t even think about any possible flaws in the animation or story. For me, that is the sign of a truly remarkable piece of art. As the monster says in A Monster Calls (2009), “Stories are important . . . They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.” I second that statement in regards to this amazing animated film, The Breadwinner.