Directed by Nora Twomey, The Breadwinner is the third feature film to be released by Irish studio Cartoon Saloon. Since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017 and subsequent nomination for Best Animated Picture in the 90th Academy awards, we’ve been eagerly awaiting its release on May 25. Thanks to The Irish Film Institute and The Irish Times, I attended a preview screening of the film on Saturday. Since the film hasn’t been officially released to the Irish public, this review will be free of major spoilers.
The Breadwinner tells the story of eleven year old Parvana, who lives under Taliban rule in Afghanistan circa 2001. Her father was previously a teacher and had lost his leg in the previous Soviet–Afghan War. To make ends meet, the family must sell possessions in a local market. However, while they are there, the two accidentally draw the ire of a young Taliban member and her father is subsequently, and unjustly, arrested. Without an adult man in the house, Parvana’s family are in a dire situation. Under Taliban rule, women are not allowed outside the home without a male chaperone. Unable to otherwise get food for her family, Parvana must make the drastic decision to disguise herself as a boy.
Under the constant threat of discovery, Parvana learns to work to provide for her family. Throughout the film, she entertains her infant brother with stories her father taught her. The story she tells of a young boy on a quest to save his village gives her courage. With this courage, she has the strength needed to persevere, even when the odds are stacked against her.
As a film, The Breadwinner expertly navigated the realities of Afghanistan under Taliban rule. It highlighted the plights of women and children under the oppressive regime in an accessible manner. Documentary cinema can be inaccessible to people, so having engaging narratives helps to get a story across to a wider audience. This film certainly succeeds in creating an immersive and gripping tale in which not only highlights the lives of people under the Taliban, but also tells a touching story of a girl and her family that almost everyone can relate to.
The film had originally been adapted from a book of the same name by Deborah Ellis. Although there are slight deviations from the original plot, the film generally stays true to the original narrative. As a visual adaptation of a children’s novel, The Breadwinner had its challenges in keeping in line with the source material while still skirting around some more graphic imagery. For the most part, I felt it succeeded in diplomatically preserving the necessary danger, without sacrificing its suitability.
However, the film received a higher certification of 12A than its predecessor, Song of the Sea, which received a PG rating. This is something I believe any parents bringing small children to see the film should consider. The film does contain scenes of violence and distressing imagery that younger children might find upsetting.
Cartoon Saloon is widely reknowned at this point for its captivating designs and animation styles. The Breadwinner is no exception to this. Where its predecessors focussed on more celtic, old Irish design elements,
this film uses a fresh take. To match its setting, the colours tend to focus more on reds and browns which work well to create an immersive atmosphere. The ‘storyworld’ scenes, where Parvana tells her stories, are told in a flatter, more graphic style. The animation method used resembles traditional paper cut-outs but was, in reality, created digitally. These scenes are expertly crafted and create an easy divide between reality and the fantasy world Parvana creates. They’re also exceptionally beautiful and showcase Cartoon Saloon at their best.
The character design is also beautifully handled. Not only does the film have a wide cast of memorable and engaging characters, with believable personalities, flaws, and motivations, but they are designed spectacularly too. Although the designs are quite simple, each character is easily recognisable with individual features. Unlike many other films, there was never a point where I found myself confused as to who a character was. Their stories and characters stay with you for some time to come.
The Breadwinner will be released in Ireland on May 25. Are you planning to go see it? Let us know in the comments section below.
Writer, artist, perpetual holder of notions.