Film Review: ‘The Breadwinner’ Is a Beautiful Tale About a Dark Time

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The Breadwinner

In the age of Pixar, watchers of animated films tend to expect flashy graphics and eye-popping color.

But sometimes less is definitely more, as is the case of Nora Twomey‘s new film, “The Breadwinner.” Classic, simple animation tells this story. It is exactly the right touch for a film about such a bleak and devastating subject.

The film, based on the novel by Deborah Ellis, is the story of Parvana, a young girl living with her family in Kabul, Afghanistan. It is sometime in the months leading up to 9/11 when the Taliban is alive and well. Life is difficult for families and women in particular. Because she is still young, Parvana is able to accompany her father every morning into the market. A former teacher, he markets his skills by reading and writing letters for the illiterate. The days are long and the earnings are meager, but her father uses the time to impart words of wisdom to his daughter.

The cruel reality of Taliban rule hits the family hard when officials show up at their home and arrest her father for the heinous crime of teaching his daughters out of books. His arrest leaves the family in a dire situation as Parvana lives with her mother, older sister, and baby brother. The women aren’t allowed to leave the house without a male escort, and her baby brother doesn’t qualify. Parvana’s solution is to disguise herself as a boy and go out to earn money for the family. A deadly scheme if she is caught, the ruse not only allows Parvana to provide for her family but also provides her with new experiences her gender prohibited.

“The Breadwinner” is hopeful tale set against the backdrop of tyranny and oppression. The artwork is simple, but this allows the story to shine through. The focus is on Parvana and her experiences, rather than on distracting details in the background. While the setting is stark, the use of color gives just the right attention at the right moments. In the green of a scarf or the scarlet sheen of a dress, those snatches of color break up the depressing palette at the right times.

Canadian actress Saara Chaudrey voices Parvana. Previously working mostly in television roles on Canadian TV, Chaudrey does great vocal work here. She deftly brings the character to life with a voice that toes the line between naivete and necessary maturity.

Director Nora Twomey brings everything together in a way that conveys the gravity of Parvana’s situation, but without tipping too far into sheer depression. Twomey embarks on her first solo feature film. She previously co-directed “The Secret of Kells” with Tomm Moore. That film was nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2009. Twomey has a great eye for how to bring the story to life onscreen, and her decision to adapt the book into an animated feature instead of live-action was wise.

This isn’t a film with bright visuals or catchy songs. Instead, it relies on simplicity. And also on audiences wanting to know about Afghan life in the days of the Taliban. This delivers, hitting all the right emotional beats. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful, and ultimately hopeful. And all of the sentiments are earned.

“The Breadwinner” is distributed by GKIDS and will be in theaters Friday, Nov. 17.

GRADE: (★★★★)

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “THE BREADWINNER” ranks!

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MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |