Film Review: The Breadwinner

This beautiful and powerful Afghan-themed story of survival and one little girl’s determination is surely the best animated feature of 2017.
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Based on a young-adult novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner centers around a feisty, independent 11-year-old girl named Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry), who sells her family possessions in the Kabul marketplace alongside her loving father, Nurullah (Ali Badshah). It is 2001, and the Taliban rule is drawing to a close, but that doesn’t stop certain aggressive members from unreasonably arresting Nurullah after an initial aggressive encounter and throwing him into prison. Parvana’s mother Fattema  (Laara Sadiq) leaves her and her older sister Soraya (Shaista Latif) and baby boy to search for him. 

A Taliban officer sees this unaccompanied woman on the street—a defiance of the law which states that men must always escort them—and savagely beats her. A horrified but resolute Parvana cuts off her hair and dresses like a boy to freely go out into the world with her friend Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), who has done the same, and take charge of her destiny.

Despite the target audience of its source and the fact that it is an animated feature, The Breadwinner is truly a film for all ages, as deeply serious as it is deeply beautiful and seriously inspiring. Executive produced by Angelina Jolie and superbly directed by Nora Twomey, it was created with a computer program, TVPaint, which lends a special, burnished look to this Cartoon Saloon product, making it one of the most visually striking animated films ever. It’s rife with moments of arresting loveliness, and even dusty, bleak Kabul attains an almost fairytale look at times, with a magical moon looking down at some decidedly horrific events that would almost be too painful to watch in live action. “Stories remain in our hearts when all else is gone,” says Nurullah, the legacy he leaves his children, and when Parvana entertains her baby brother with a fable about a boy who fights the evil Elephant King to save everybody, the vivid accompanying imagery of the tale is quite breathtaking.

Apart from the visuals, however, it’s the story that counts, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cartoon that so gripped my heart and sent my pulse racing. The dread horror of the Taliban is clearly made manifest, which makes Parvana’s journey all the more fraught and riveting to watch. Twomey, scenarist Anita Doron, the Cartoon Saloon team and Mychael and Jeff Danna, who composed the apt Afghan-inspired score, have made the ultimate “girl power” movie, so forceful and moving that it actually transcends that trifling epithet.

Click here for cast and crew information.