[An Irish-Canadian-Luxembourgish co-production, adapted
from Deborah Ellis’s much-loved YA novel, it’s a tale of youthful
fortitude in Taliban-era Afghanistan that has something of the defiant
feminist spirit of the French-Iranian gem Persepolis.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 THE BREADWINNER REVIEW – A GIRL’S COURAGE ON THE STREETS OF KABUL
 
[https://portside.org/2018-06-05/breadwinner-review-girls-courage-streets-kabul]


 

 Mark Kermode 
 May 27, 2018
The Guardian
[https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/may/27/the-breadwinner-review-nora-twomey-deborah-ellis-kabul]


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 _ An Irish-Canadian-Luxembourgish co-production, adapted
from Deborah Ellis’s much-loved YA novel, it’s a tale of youthful
fortitude in Taliban-era Afghanistan that has something of the defiant
feminist spirit of the French-Iranian gem Persepolis. _ 

 The ‘honey light’ of early morning Kabul as portrayed in The
Breadwinner. , Photograph: StudioCanal 

 

Further proof that we are living through a golden age of animation is
provided by this Oscar-nominated marvel from Kilkenny’s Cartoon
Saloon, the studio behind _The Secret of Kells_
[https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/03/secret-of-kells-film-review] and _Song
of the Sea_
[https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jul/12/song-of-the-sea-review].
An Irish-Canadian-Luxembourgish co-production, adapted from Deborah
Ellis [https://www.guardianbookshop.com/breadwinner.html]’s
much-loved YA novel, it’s a tale of youthful fortitude in
Taliban-era Afghanistan that has something of the defiant feminist
spirit of the French-Iranian gem _Persepolis_
[https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/apr/27/worldcinema.animation].

Flitting between a mythical past and a down-to-earth present, the
story is full of scary monsters – from fantastical demons to
all-too-real landmines and brutal beatings. Yet _The
Breadwinner_ looks through the eyes of a resilient young girl whose
courage is our guide. Along with the eerie beauty of the animation
there is a salving streak of humour that softens this tale’s sharper
edges, reminding us that – for children – laughter and bravery
walk hand in hand.

We first meet 11-year-old Parvana (affectingly voiced by Saara
Chaudry) on the streets of Kabul, where she is helping her father,
Nurullah (Ali Badshah), to sell their meagre goods. A teacher by
trade, he lost a leg in the Russian war, but is now considered a
subversive for encouraging his daughters to be independent – to
learn the history of their land and to understand the liberating power
of its stories. “Stories remain in our hearts, even when all else is
gone,” Nurullah tells Parvana, although she’s starting to wonder:
“What’s the use?”

When Nurullah is arrested by the Taliban, Parvana’s family (mother,
sister, baby brother) are unable to buy food, since women cannot leave
their homes unchaperoned. So Parvana cuts her hair, puts on the
clothes of her dead brother, and ventures out into the streets.
“When you’re a boy, you can go anywhere you like!” says fellow
traveller Shauzia (Soma Chhaya) as Parvana experiences a whole new
world – a magic-carpet ride full of vibrant colour and bustling
life. But the storm clouds of war are gathering once more, and Parvana
must secure her father’s release before it’s too late.

While researching her novel in the late 1990s, Ellis spent time
interviewing girls and women in refugee camps in Pakistan. In this
superb screen adaptation, director Nora Twomey
[https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/may/20/film-director-nora-twomey-interview-new-review-q-and-a-breadwinner] and
screenwriter Anita Doron have retained the cultural authenticity of
Ellis’s book while expanding the narrative in adventurous ways. A
story within the story provides both a potted history of Afghanistan
(“We were scientists, philosophers and storytellers, but we were at
the edges of empires at war with each other”) and a parallel
narrative of Parvana’s struggles, told in fabulist fashion. Conjured
through spiralling cut-out animations, these folkloric threads centre
on a “dreadful elephant king” with spiked tusks whose red-eyed
jaguars terrorise a village. In this story it falls to a dancing boy
to secure the future, something he can only do by facing the demons of
his past, a lesson that Parvana must also learn.

The theatricality of these sequences is in sharp contrast to the more
realistically rendered world of Parvana’s day-to-day life. Here, the
back streets and market places are as vividly realised as anything
from the Israeli animated documentary _Waltz With Bashir_
[https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/nov/23/waltz-with-bashir-review],
albeit filtered through a visual poetry that captures the misty
“honey light” of early morning Kabul. A landscape of abandoned
tanks becomes a haunting playground in which our heroines share their
dreams of the moon and the ocean, conjuring a _Shawshank
Redemption_-style tide of hope that flows like a river through the
narrative.

The characters have quietly eloquent faces in which a single line
beneath an eye can bespeak age, weariness, worry or anger. Domestic
rituals are affectionately observed – particularly communal meals of
rice and raisins (“you will feel better when your belly is full”)
– in which complex family dynamics are revealed through tiny
gestures. Crucially, all these players are drawn with a tangible
tenderness – from baby Zaki, a burbling, button-nosed bundle of joy,
to a young Taliban bully who terrorises Parvana, but who is himself
revealed to be riven with fear.

Mychael and Jeff Danna’s music is lyrical and expressive, blending
eastern instruments with western orchestrations as it moves from
pieces echoing the street sounds of Kabul to the more expansive
evocations of the enchanted story-world. A thrilling climax brings
together all the threads that weave through this terrific movie.
Executive producer Angelina Jolie’s name has star power, but it’s
the self-effacing Twomey, making her solo directorial feature debut,
who is the real heroine of this wonderful film.

_[Writer and broadcaster Mark Kermode is the Observer's chief film
critic. He is the author of Hatchet Job
[http://bookshop.theguardian.com/hatchet-job.html] and The Good, the
Bad and the Multiplex
[http://bookshop.theguardian.com/good-the-bad-and-the-multiplex.html].
Follow him on twitter: @kermodemovie
[https://twitter.com/kermodemovie]]_

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