Set in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, The Breadwinner follows the daily struggles of a young girl named Parvana. When her father Nurullah is wrongfully arrested, Parvana has no choice but to cut her hair and dress like a boy in order to provide for her family. She makes a new friend and escapes hardship through the stories she tells, but her life is still threatened by danger. Moreover she is desperate to find a way to bring her father home.
In spite of the potentially harrowing effect The Breadwinner could have, the film manages to be told in a beautiful, hopeful way that will not only engage audiences young and old, but provoke important, intuitive conversations. In The Breadwinner, three time Oscar-nominated studio Cartoon Saloon (which got nods for Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea as well as The Breadwinner) continues its reputation for making stunning animation centred on the power of storytelling. Here it is applied to a non-Irish story for the first time.
Integrating various textures of animation, notably for the storytelling sequences, you often forget that you’re watching a cartoon given the contemporary and real nature of its themes and story. The dark, threatening, uncompromising world it portrays is stirring. It is a world where to be a woman is a hazard, where moments of decency, kindness and respect are few, where men are filled with rage and violence, and where day-to-day living is full of menace and potential bloodshed.
Key to balancing the hardship of Parvana’s life is the sensitive, touching representation of her family, which includes her older sister and baby brother as well as her parents. We also see Parvana make a wonderful new friend and use her imagination to provide escapism for herself and her loved ones. While the prospect of war feels imminent throughout, what the movie chooses to leave you with is a sense of hope. With its strong, inspiring female characters faced with impossibly oppressive circumstances, The Breadwinner is a film that demands to be seen by everyone of every age everywhere.