Verdict: a powerfully moving drama with a heroine for the ages.
This heartbreaking Academy Award nominated animation was produced by Angelina Jolie, based on the novel by Deborah Ellis, and follows the story of a young girl called Parvana living in Afghanistan in 2001.
Under Taliban control that forbids women to leave the house unaccompanied, Parvana must disguise herself as a boy in order to provide for her family when her father is taken away to prison.
A you can imagine, the story is immensely painful, but it’s also fundamentally driven by hope, and the strength and resilience of women living in inhumane conditions. This is a story about the power of stories — like the Japanese inspired animation Kubo and the Two Strings, our hero’s journey is supplemented by a story they are telling. Parvana tells her little brother the story of a brave boy who must complete a quest to save his village from the evil elephant king.
The tales interweave, showing Parvana’s inspirational childlike optimism and determination in both her words and her deeds. Saara Chaudry, the young Canadian actress who voices Parvana, is an absolute triumph in this demanding role.
The fact that it’s an animated film with a child protagonist tricks you into thinking this will be a child-friendly story, which only makes the shocking violence and sickening terror all the worse and more striking. It’s brilliantly done, and the film never patronises, but nor is it devoid of hope. The happy ending is relative – a won battle at the start of a war to come. The victory is not diminished, but nor is the wider context ignored for the sake of a neat conclusion.
It goes without saying that this film is incredibly feminist, but the most powerful part of its feminism is how varied and diverse it is. Parvana, her mother, her older sister, her friend — they each approach the challenges in their lives in different ways, but all are shown to be incredibly brave. Parvana’s masculine disguise is never once framed as a disdain for femininity, but rather the freedom it affords her draws attention to the horror of the constraints placed on women by the violently patriarchal regime.
As well as the horror and the suffering, the film is full of love. The bonds between Parvana’s family, her friendships — there are moments of joy and mirth and triumph, all building blocks in this complex picture of life under Taliban rule.
The 2D animation style of the story within the story, the stunningly evocative score — so many details in this film effectively immerse the audience in Parvana’s world view. The emotional climax of the film is so tense, and the childlike lens through which she views it only makes it more painful to watch. The audience is never once allowed to forget how young she is; how many horrors she has seen.
The ultimate message, however, is of the power of stories in bringing people together.
The Breadwinner is available on Digital Download on Sept 17, and on DVD and Blu-ray Sept 24, distributed by StudioCanal.