#9- The Breadwinner (2017)

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Unlike other reviews on this list I won’t be scoring anything from this film. The reason is it doesn’t feel right to. If I did critique anything I believe it 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 done by Cartoon Saloon . Known for their other beautiful animated films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea this was the directorial debut of Nora Twomey and their first feature not based on Irish culture.

It actually 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. 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 in order to take care of them and find her father before it is too late.

STORY:

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This is a story which has something truly important. Its message on abuse and a 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 which undervalues women and controls its people through force and fear.

It is almost impossible to ignore how cruelly women are treated under Taliban rule. Unable to leave their homes unsupervised or uncovered, receive an education or travel without male consent, I truly 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, they proceeded to beat her and charge her to return home lest worse should befall her. What made this scene all the more crushing was the fact that her mother was once an esteemed writer. But in that moment, she was helpless to do or be anything.

But it isn’t as though all men are evil. There are those like her father, many of the stall owners as well as 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 innocents were mistreated. Those who confronted it or stepped out of line in any way were punished horribly, most taken to prison were never seen again.

Execution and Characters:

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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 which have stuck with me over the years. Like Miyazaki, I think director Twomey and 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 which really 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 really rounded out this story, rooting it in reality, but also amplifying it through beautiful animation.

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Amidst the real life events are also the unforgettable story exerts Parvana tells to her brother and friends until the end of the movie. 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.

Coupled with this story, this film significantly showed what many tales have done before: no matter how dark circumstances may seem, heroes rise up and fight against evil. Sometimes that person MUST be us. Amidst the dark times in this movie there are actually moments which glorify small instances of joy. Whether it was being able to support her family, eating sugar candies, or finding her lost father, I was so happy to see her circumstances did not destroy her and her family.

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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. With these victories though, war was breaking out. Their world was still cruel and was possibly on the brink of becoming much 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 from 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 truly gets better at film making after each feature they complete.

ANIMATION:

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I don’t think the animation is the true highlight. Scenes from Parvana’s story along with some methodical moments caught my attention in their details but otherwise I didn’t feel animators accomplished anything groundbreaking.

However, I must mention how beautifully they created the backgrounds and atmosphere of Parvana’s tale. I really felt as though I was seeing a story about Afghanistan. I lived and breathed it throughout the movie. Like their pasts films, these Irish animators really have a gift for giving viewers true, cultural experiences through imagery and story.

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MUSIC:

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I never take too long to talk about music, but I do want to mention how impressed I was with the score. Actually 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 his, and his co-writer Jeff Danna’s, soundtrack and am truly in awe of how well they set the tone for such an inspiring story. (I actually thought, when I first listened, it sounded a lot like Life of Pi‘s score and am pleased my musical ear hasn’t become rusty. )

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

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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 truly engaging, its animation the highest quality, its music astounding and its message is of the utmost importance.

I really don’t feel it is right to grade this movie. Sometimes it is best to just sit back and experience films. When I watched it I didn’t even think about any flaws in 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 thus amazing animated film The Breadmaker.

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First off, A list of Pending Favorite Books

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Strange to think about, but there are some books or series I haven’t been with long enough to know if they really are my favorites. Again, these posts are basically for myself, but if others enjoy them then I have no complaints! Also, this list may grow bigger over time as I scan the archives of my mind. I have read a lot of books. . .

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  1. The Winternight Trilogy (2016-) Katherine Arden

Since coming home from my mission to Russia, I am naturally drawn to stories with Russia origins. Miss Arden was actually a student in Moscow for a time and I can sense her own deep love for Russian culture.

What makes this series so engaging for me is not that it creates something new from Russian folktales or culture. It is how she builds off of and immerses readers into the Medieval Russian world. Vasya is a relatably flawed, beautiful, fiery heroine, the winter king is intensely human despite his inhumane nature, and her family doesn’t understand her but accepts her. There is romance in the novels, but not Romantic love. There is much grief but it defines character development and there are religious aspects but not in the traditional sense.

In other words, it has a refreshingly Russian atmosphere I can’t forget and such an engaging story I cannot wait to read the last book in the series.

So, why isn’t it on my favorites list? Well, for two reasons. Number one: it isn’t finished so I don’t know if the author will do anything to make me hate myself for reading it: aka, gratuitous sexual content or anything else morally ambiguous. Number two: honestly I have only known about these books for a year. So, who knows how I might change in the future.

But we will wait and see.

FAVORITE QUOTES:

“I do not understand “damned.” You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.”
Katherine Arden, The Bear and the Nightingale

“‘Should I live out my life as a false Lord, until they find me out and put me in a convent? She demanded. Should I run away? Go home? Never see my brothers again? Where do I belong? I don’t know. I don’t know who I am. And I have eaten in your house, and nearly died in your arms, and you rode with me tonight and I hoped you might know.’

The word sounded foolish even as she said it. She bit her lip. The silence stretched out.

‘Vasya,’ he said.

‘Don’t. You never mean it,’ she said, drawing away. ‘You are immortal and it is only a game.’

His answer was not in words, perhaps, spoke for him when his fingertips found the pulse behind her jaw. She did not move. His eyes were cold and still: pale stars to make her lost. ‘Vasya,’ he said again, low and almost ragged, into her ear. ‘ I am not wise as you would have me, for all my years in the world. I do not know what you should choose. Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.‘

‘That is not advice,’ she said. The wind blew her hair against his face.

‘It is all I have,’ he said. Then he slid his fingers through her hair and kissed her.”

Katherine Arden, The Girl in the Tower

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2. From Far Away,彼方から (1993-2003), Kyoko Hikawa

I wrote my review for this series several years ago and recently reread it when I returned home from Russia. Honestly, it is one of the sweetest testaments to free will, growing love and virtue I have ever read. Its emphasis on choice and our personal responsibility to choose the light have stayed with me since I read it perhaps four years ago.

I also like its characters, especially Noriko for her determination, flexibility and gentleness as well as Izark for his susceptibility, empathy and genuine desire to choose good. The art is also very pretty and consistent. Overall, it is one of the few manga which I have continued reading after so many years.

Now, it is not on my favorite books list simply because I don’t feel I return to it often enough. I think about it sometimes, but usually I remember it only in passing.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

Izark: “Don’t go! Don’t leave me! I’m not just being nice! I love you. I mean it. It’s true that because of you I am closer than ever to becoming the sky demon. But remember what Zena said? She said the future is not predetermined. She said we make our own futures. I can change my future even if I don’t know how yet. I just want to protect you. If anything horrible happened to you I couldn’t stand it. I’d rather become a monster than lose you. So stay with my Noriko. Please stay with me.”

[Noriko embraces him]” Of course I will stay with you. No matter what happens to us. I’ll never leave you.”

[Izark collapses onto his knees and weeps]

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3. The Tale of Despereaux (2003), Kate DiCamillo

Though the movie adaption for this book was incredibly underwhelming, I remember reading Kate Dicamillo’s book when I was fourteen. Truly, this is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. It deals with real issues of fitting in the worlds we are born into. Of seeing more to the world then fear or darkness. And of course, about growing and doing incredible things for love.

Honestly, though this used to be one of the few books I named as my favorites, it has been too long. I need to read it again before I can know for sure. But I have waited so long because I needed to relive its magic again anywa.

FAVORITE QUOTES:

“Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.”
Kate DiCamillo, Despereaux = Tale of Despereaux

“Love, as we have already discussed, is a powerful, wonderful, ridiculous thing, capable of moving mountains. And spools of thread.”
Kate DiCamillo, Despereaux = Tale of Despereaux

“This is the danger of loving: No matter how powerful you are, no matter how many kingdoms you rule, you cannot stop those you love from dying.”
Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.

4. A Monster Calls (2011), Patrick Ness, conceived by the late Siobhan Dowd

With some of the most beautiful illustrations I have seen, and a thought provoking story made for our day concerning loss and acceptance, I have never forgotten this book. I have read it once but only recently thought of it again when I myself experienced several deaths in my family. I really would recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with immense grief, especially concerning the suffering of their loved ones.

I can’t name this as one of my favorites quite yet. As of now, I have only just started reading it again. But I reaffirm this book is truly beautiful. Achingly so to be exact.

FAVORITE QUOTES:

“You do not write your life with words…You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Because humans are complicated beasts, the monster said. How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour? How can an apothecary be evil-tempered but right-thinking? How can a parson be wrong-thinking but good-hearted? How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen?

“I don’t know,” Connor shrugged, exhausted. “Your stories never made any sense to me.”

The answer is that it does not matter what you think, the monster said, because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

But what is a dream, Conor O’Malley? the monster said, bending down so it’s face was close to Conor’s. Who is to say that it is not everything else that is the dream?
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

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5. Life of Pi (2001), Yann Martel

Many are most likely familiar with this story because of the 2012 film directed by Ang Lee. Some may also know it is one of my all time favorite films. (THAT I know for sure.) I love the complicated, wonderful, almost perfect way Yann Martel tells the story of faith: how in life, though a life without God seems more believable and logical it is also cruel, empty and jarring. I also love how it emphasizes how diverse religions have more in common than they think.

So, this is a unique situation because I really think I love the book because of the movie. I actually refused to read it in my teens because I thought there was cannibalism. But now, I am caught between my love for the movie and book. And that is where it stands. But I would read it even if you have seen the movie. There is more in the book which was omitted from the film, though the main theme is still the same.

FAVORITE QUOTES:

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi

“These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi

“I couldn’t get Him out of my head. Still can’t. I spent three solid days thinking about Him. The more He bothered me, the less I coul forget Him. And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him.”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi

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6. Leven thumps and the Gateway to Foo (2005), Obert Skye

Hmmm, I remember seeing this book for the first time at Deseret Book in Showlow, AZ. I bought it with my own money if I recall correctly and fell in love with it. Leven, the main character, was born on my birthday exactly. October 15, 1990. That meant we were kindred spirits! Looking back, I remember how many times I read it and love its sequels. I wanted to go to Foo, the land of dreams. I also cared deeply for Leven as a person. I don’t often feel that way when reading.

But I never finished the series. I can’t recall why. Like many other books on this list I need to revisit it and remember anew what it meant to me. Which is why it is here.

FAVORITE QUOTES:

“There is no moment more precious than the exact moment you are living now”
Obert Skye, Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo

“Leven Thumps, you are incredibly more than you believe yourself to be.” – Clover”
Obert Skye, Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo

Favorite Movies Special: One Year Mission Aniversary

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As many know, I love films and studying them as artistic pieces. Since it is the one year anniversary of when I returned from Russia, I thought it only fitting I should finally begin writing again. I gave it some thought and decided to write reviews on my ten favorite films I have seen this last year.

Believe me when I say I have seen many new, exciting releases from Beauty and the Beast (2017) to the new Jumanji (2017) and even Wonder Woman (2017). My mother shares my love for movies and made sure I got my fair taste of the new films which have come out.

I think I am more detached then I used to be to my opinions. Honestly, I have less of a critic in me and more of a mere observer. Now, I truly believe the best films give us irreplaceable experiences. And I also believe some films are better quality then others. This is why so many classics stay with us even after all these years. I try to see them though I am set inside the film itself. Paying attention to the way I feel and think, I simply let go of those I don’t thoroughly enjoy.

The rant is over so now I will explain the rules. So, they simply need to be films released between 2015 and now which I have seen this past year. For the first time of course. I will critique simply on story and execution, animation or cinematography, characters, music and my overall experience.

So without further ado, I will begin. I will write these ten reviews within the next 10 days. Hopefully. Probably. There is a high likelihood I may get distracted but I promise I will finish!