Review: A winning formula - The Breadwinner

Oscar nominated Cartoon Saloon opens in Irish cinemas this week. Cara O'Doherty reviews the movie directed by Cork woman Nora Twomey
Review: A winning formula - The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner, released nationwide from Friday, May 25, cert 12a, ****

CARTOON Saloon has become synonymous with creating stunning animation films for children. The Irish company’s work has been nominated for three Oscars and won numerous prestigious awards.

Founded in 1999 by Paul Young, Tomm Moore, and Cork’s own Nora Twomey, the company has gone from local success story to global acknowledgment as one of the best in the industry. This Oscar-nominated outing is an adaptation of Deborah Ellis’s novel for young adults, The Breadwinner.

Saara Chaudry voices 11-year-old Parvana, who lives in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah) is a teacher. He suffers from an old injury and tries to earn a living by selling items in the local market and by writing and reading letters for those who cannot do it for themselves.

Against the rules of the Taliban regime, he has taught Parvana how to read and write.

When Nuruallah is arrested and jailed for apparently insulting a member of the Taliban, Parvana is left to try to fend for her mother, her sister, and her baby brother. The problem, though, is that taking care of them is something she cannot do. Under the regime, females are not allowed to go out in public without the company of a male relative. They are not allowed to work or do anything that might help their family.

She tries to buy some food at the market but even the most sympathetic of men are afraid to sell to her. They will be punished and possibly jailed if they do.

Desperate to get news of her father, Parvana and her mother undertake the long journey to the prison but are violently attacked on the way. Returning home, her mother is resigned to the fact that their only option is to marry off one of her daughters, something the family had agreed never to do.

Parvana makes a brave decision. She cuts her hair, deepens her voices and dresses in clothes that once belonged to her deceased brother. She heads out to the market and relishes in her new-found freedom. She buys food for her family, desperately trying not to smile as the men hand over the goods.

Her next step is to find a job, which she does thanks to Shauzia (Soma Bhatua), a girl from her neighbourhood who is also living as a boy.

Shauzia teaches her how to navigate the world as a boy. They work but also enjoy all the benefits of freedom. They play together, sneak into a sweet factory and at once are both children and adults as amidst the games they fend for their families.

Throughout the film, there is a story within the story as Parvana tells her baby brother tales that her father used to tell. The stories spring to life as Parvana narrates and we learn about the myths of the Afghan people and get the chance to see a very different side to the country than we have come to see on our news channels.

The animation in the story within a story is sublime and gorgeous. The colour palate is a stunning mix of muted dust and vivid colours.

The Breadwinner never shies away from the difficulty of life under the Taliban. Director Twomey has carefully crafted a film that introduces children to the difficulties faced by their contemporaries in other lands and whilst it isn’t sugar-coated it still gives a sense of hope.

This is a brave film that tells the story of courageous little girls who stand up under extraordinary circumstances — and it does it beautifully.

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