Film Review: The Breadwinner

Perhaps one of the most inspiring things about Nora Twomey’s Oscar nominated first feature animation The Breadwinner is how female it is in it all its aspects. Adapted from Canadian writer Deborah Ellis’s best selling Young Adult novel of the same name, and executive produced by Angelina Jolie, the film offers one of the most heartening stories you are likely to come across this year, and is further elevated by the simplicity of the means used to tell it.

The year is 2001 and Afghanistan is under the control of the Taliban. Women are required to stay at home and only be seen out wearing the burqa and accompanied by a male relative. For 11 year old Parvana, this way of life has made it impossible to enjoy a happy and fulfilling childhood.  When her father, a former teacher, is captured by the religious police for owning banned fairytale books, the young girl’s family is left without a male in the household an therefore unable to earn a living or even leave the house to buy provisions. Unable to ignore the need for food and money any longer, Parvana cuts her hair off and dresses as a boy in order to provide for her family under the unsuspecting eyes of the Taliban.

Twomey offers a truly beautiful account of lost innocence in a county torn by too many wars to mention. Avoiding the obvious orientalist take on Afghani society as a whole, the film is able to get to the heart of the issue of women’s rights and the education of girls in the region. And presenting a beautiful alternative which harks back to Afghanistan’s more enlightened past in the shape of a parallel narrative which runs through the story, the director is able to create a world which allows its own protagonists to speak up for their rights to exist equally alongside their male counterparts.

Whilst the film is very careful not to force an outsider view onto its audience, there is no doubt that its writer knows her subject inside out, and having lived, travelled and worked closely with female charities from the region, nobody can ever accuse her of appropriating this story for her artistic own gain. In fact, Ellis is also famed for handing a great portion of her royalties to some of these charities.

Benefitting greatly from its mostly female writing and directing team, which also includes screenwriter Anita Doron, The Breadwinner isn’t afraid of wearing its heart on its sleeve by presenting an image of Afghanistan which w’ve all heard about thousands times before, but which only a few filmmakers were able to represents honesty and with very little judgement. A genuinely thrilling, terrific and wonderfully well made first feature which deserves to have all the accolade heaped upon it. A must see.


The Breadwinner: An interview with Nora Twomey and Saara Chaudry

The Setting Sun: Cannes 2018 In Retrospect

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