'The Breadwinner' review - a film that showcases the colourful side of Afghanistan

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Ethan Luc visits the Watershed in Bristol to review 'The Breadwinner', the Academy Award nominated animation film based on the novel by Deborah Ellis.

Young children are seldom content. I watched from my front row seat at the Watershed as a small toddler waddled his way in front of the screen: impatient, ignorant, careless. There are clear dissimilarities between him and Parvana (Saara Chaudry), the young, female protagonist of the Oscar nominated animation The Breadwinner.

In The Breadwinner, to make a living on the streets of the Afghan capital, Kabul, Parvana must pose as a boy after her father is taken away by the Taliban. Her world, although hand drawn with colourful vibrancy as part of director Nora Twomey’s vision, is fraught with abuse and fear. But there are also similarities. At the heart of Parvana’s story is a steely determination to see her father once more, no matter the cost. She has a brazen energy so vivacious in young children across the world. It can be seen in her pulsating green eyes. It can be seen in the difference between her and the adults around her.

Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon previously produced the The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014), both also nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Oscars. With The Breadwinner, Twomey and her team have chosen to adapt the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis—and to glorious effect. The animation suits the film, pushing politics to the background whilst accentuating the small, but not insignificant, lives of its characters.

Kabul’s beauty is also not forgotten. The colours of the town may be muted, but as Parvana wonders through the marketplace disguised as “Aatish” (“It means fire”) for the first time, her freedom unlocked, the shops spring to life. And, in the storytelling segments of the narrative as told by Parvana and her mother, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan becomes a well of gorgeous aquamarine jewels, or a volcano defended by swirling red monsters. The land, upon which a fantastical blue sun shines its loving light, reveals the history of its magnificent people.

There is a loving dose of human nature which runs right through the heart of this film and it never moralises

The story highlights a popular cultural practice in parts of Afghanistan where the daughter of a family is raised as a boy to become the so-called ‘breadwinner’. ‘Bacha posh’ is used to maintain a family’s honour and livelihood whilst, theoretically, providing the young girl with a better quality of life. The newfound freedom Parvana experiences as Aatish is oceans apart from that she experiences as a girl.

In fact, on the streets of Kabul, she also meets another girl who has been forced to live the life of a boy. They work menial jobs to build up a small bank of money, working hard to fulfil their dreams. Shauzia (Soma Chhaya) wants to visit the sea, where “the moon brings the water onto the shore”. She wants to feel the water lapping at her feet. Parvana’s hopes are darker, constructed in a different kind of reality; she’s working to earn enough money to bribe the prison guards to see her father one final time. Together, their dreams show the tensions at work in this complicated country.

Just finished watching The Breadwinner the story of a brave 11 year old Afghan girl Parvana, who dresses up as a boy to support her family. I fell in head-over-heels in love with this film, the brilliant animation that beautifully crafted by Catroon Salon from director Nora Twomey. Produced by Angelina Jolie. The best quote from movie ”Raise your words not your voice, it’s the rain that makes the flowers grow not the thunder” - the breadwinner It provides us with an important message while educating us about times that has befallen on Afghanistan. Done so not with guns or bloodshed, but with stroke of a paintbrush. Highly recommend checking this out ! Here's my five-star 5/5 ⭐️ rave. #thebreadwinner #cartoonsaloon #movie #story #afghanistan #Afghan #Novel #angelinajolie #bestmovie #noratwomey #quote

A post shared by Murtaza Afzali (@murtaza_afzali) on

One review at Watershed suggested the film racist and does not differentiate enough between Islam and the Taliban. That review is short-sighted. There is a moving scene halfway through the film where a Taliban member grieves for a lost family member. Parvana empathises. Politics is not the point. Cinema has the incredible power to show the perspective of the marginalised. Indeed, what matters here is the worldview of a little girl, and her experiences with the people around her.

The Breadwinner harks back to the short, animated films of biblical tales I used to watch at school. Those films always felt as if they had a moral behind them. Twomey’s animation is better than that. There is a loving dose of human nature which runs right through the heart of this film and it never moralises.

The Breadwinner was screened at Watershed from 23rd to 31st May.

Featured Image: Twitter / @BreadwinnerThe


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