A comfortable contender for film of the year.
The Breadwinner depicts the story of Parvana, a young girl living in the early 2000s, Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Selling her family's meagre wares on the dusty streets of Kabul with her father – a teacher by trade, and crippled veteran of the Soviet-Afghan war – it's soon made clear that the presence of females on the streets is unappreciated. Amidst potential customers and gun-toting fundamentalists, Parvana's father - Nurullah reminisces about his youth.
"When I was young, Parvana, I knew what peace felt like, here in the city. Children went to school, women went to university."
It's clear that these are values Nurullah still holds dear as he openly teaches Parvana about history; capturing the attention of the local Taliban. After a heated exchange in which Nurullah insults Idrees – a former pupil, but now a young and volatile member of the Taliban – Parvana and her father decide to head home: Where Pavana begins telling a story that guides us through the duration of the film.
Unfortunately, the Taliban have also followed them home; led by a still incensed Idrees who has Nurullah arrested for owning "forbidden books" and "using them to teach women."
Left with no means of supporting themselves (women aren't allowed out without a male escort, and Parvana's older brother has died), Parvana takes it upon herself to cut her hair and don her older brothers clothes so she can provide for her family and set her father free.
From Cartoon Saloon, the creative minds behind The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea comes – quite possibly – the studios most brilliant film to date. Directed by Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells), The Breadwinner is as heart-breaking as it is uplifting, as sombre as it is humorous, and as unpleasant as it is beautiful. The animation and soundtrack work in tandem to create something incredibly special: A melancholic and salient movie suitable for the whole family.
Beautifully rendered and lavish cutout animation serves as the backbone of the film; providing a channel for the all-important mythical folk tale told throughout by Parvana. The scenes set in the present – the main body of the film – use Cartoon Saloon's signature, stunningly hand-drawn animation, and if you've ever seen Song of the Sea, it will be instantly recognisable. This time, however, a conscious decision has been made to keep separate the whimsical and the ordinary:Where the animators in Song of the Sea mixed the folk elements with the actual throughout, The Breadwinner uses its signature style to ground us in the present and create striking, haunting, and poignant visuals of a country torn apart by conflict.
The narrative flits between these two elements cosily; increasing in cadence as the movie progresses, building to a thrilling climax which is exciting, terrifying, and ultimately, heart-breaking. I'll go into more detail about this in a separate and spoiler-filled post, as I really, really enjoyed the way this movie used the animation, soundtrack, and different narrative elements; weaving it all together to create a brutally frank, yet uplifting experience.
"Stories remain in our hearts when all else has gone" - Says Nurullah. And stories, whether they be historical or fantastical, represent a consistently fundamental theme throughout Cartoon Studio's films. Here, they serve as our gateway into the culture and history of a proud nation wracked by foreign intervention. A nation, whom until very recently, appreciated a radically different way of life: One of freedoms and equality. The Breadwinner deals significantly with the issue of women's rights and prompted me – rather strangely – to think of Babak Anvari's fantastic, Under the Shadow; at least in the way, it approaches its female characters and the problems they face. And, like Under the Shadow, The Breadwinner is a celebration of the strength of the women living under such a harshly patriarchal, and authoritarian society.
The Breadwinner is not just an amazing animated film; it's just amazing, period. The voice casting is superb, the story is magical, and the striking animation and beautiful soundtrack bring everything together to make something truly special.
Genuinely, this is quite possibly the best movie of the year so far: I wouldn't be surprised if it was still at the top spot by the end of the year. The Breadwinner has quickly become one of my favourite movies of all time: I fell in love with it immediately and I honestly can't recommend it enough. It takes some tracking down, but you need to see this movie, even if you're not a fan of animated film. It's so important to support this kind of filmmaking; mature, animated films for the entire family which doesn't attempt to shield children from unpleasant situations, and aren't afraid to explore the darker and deeper aspects of life.
The Breadwinner is a movie I'll not only be purchasing on release to watch again and again but one I'll actively be searching out and collecting memorabilia for. Please, go and see this film, take your kids; you won't be disappointed.