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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. )
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.