Arts movie review

The Breadwinner: A heartwarming tale of bravery and the strength of a family

The Breadwinner adds to Cartoon Saloon’s beautiful collection of animated films

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Parvana, disguised as a boy, attempts to provide for her family in the marketplace.
Courtesy of GKids

Directed by Nora Twomey
Written by Anita Doron
Produced by Angelina Jolie
Based off a novel by Deborah Ellis

In a city in Afghanistan, Parvana lives with her father, mother, sister, and brother under the harsh Taliban rule. They struggle to survive in this environment, but her father cheers everyone up by telling stories. Her father attempts to make money in the marketplace by reading and writing for those who cannot, but he is soon arrested and taken to prison for teaching his daughters how to read and write. Without a male of age in the household, the women cannot go out and make money or buy food for themselves. In order to provide for her family, Parvana disguises herself as a boy to become the breadwinner of the family. Along the way, she assumes the role of a storyteller, as her father was, in order to bring happiness to her family.

The Breadwinner is an undeniably beautiful movie and story. The strength of the women in the family to survive is evident by all the sacrifices they make: Parvana risking death by disguising herself as a boy, and her mother risking death to keep them united. As Parvana begins to see the freedom that comes with being a boy in her world, she must balance providing for her family at home and wanting to save her father from the prison. The audience feels for her as she navigates the difficulties work and the dangers of escaping and avoiding the Taliban.

The themes explored in this movie are darker than those typically found in animated movies, making it more suitable for older children and adults. Themes of female subjugation by the Taliban, the history of that Afghanistan, war, and prison cruelty would make it difficult for especially young children to grasp; on the other hand, while the filmmakers do not shy away from showing these themes, they present them carefully by either only implying what happens or focusing on sounds rather than imagery.

Parvana’s desire to provide for her family in the face of grave danger is evident, but more remarkable are her efforts to unite them and bring joy to them despite all the terrible events that have happened. Her stories are an escape from the day-to-day struggles, and they provide much-needed peace and happiness to her family. Parvana’s stories demonstrate that storytelling can be a method of coping and remembering and honoring those in our past as her story honors her older brother.

Despite the engaging plot, The Breadwinner struggled at some points with the flow of the movie. Parvana’s story, while engaging and interesting, sometimes interrupts the main plot suddenly. While vague at the start of the movie, the subject of her tale becomes clear. It is about the fate of her older brother, and while that revelation was meant to be heartfelt and powerful, it felt out of place in the moment because of all the other concurrent events in the main plot. However, these bumps in the road are minor compared to the overall quality of the movie.

One of the main reasons this movie stuck out to me was the fact that it was from the same creators as The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, which were both Academy nominees for best Animated Feature. I loved the surrealist animation style of those two movies but was disappointed that this style only appears when Parvana tells her story. However, the animation is still crisp and beautiful, and the plot of The Breadwinner is much more engaging than either of those two films, which makes it a new favorite of mine.