Film review: The Breadwinner a beautiful, moving celebration of the human spirit

Made by Irish animators Cartoon Saloon, Oscar-nominated The Breadwinner is a beautifully crafted and deeply moving parable that celebrates the human spirit and decries the subjugation of women, writes Damon Smith

Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) and her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah) in The Breadwinner
Damon Smith

HOPE takes root in the barren wilderness of present-day Afghanistan in Nora Twomey's beguiling drama, which was deservedly nominated as Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards.

Based on the bestselling children's book by Canadian author and activist Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is a beautifully crafted and deeply moving celebration of the fragile human spirit as seen through the tear-filled eyes of a family struggling to make ends meet under a brutal regime that subjugates women.

Twomey's film doesn't shy away from depicting the intimidation and punishment of female characters including one scene of a mother being bludgeoned with a walking stick for daring to leave her house without a male guardian.

Violence is meted out off-screen but we hear and feel every sickening blow and share the victims' sense of injustice that silently rages behind their swollen and bruised mouths.

Expressive and vibrant hand-drawn visuals alternate between an earthy palette for battle-scarred reality and an explosion of retina-searing colour for the fantastical fables that family members share to temporarily salve their pain.

“Stories always remain in our hearts, even when all else is gone,” tenderly counsels one father.

Twomey's film certainly lingers in the mind well after the end credits roll.

Eleven-year-old Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) lives in Kabul with her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah), mother Fattema (Laara Sadiq), older sister Soraya (Shaista Latif) and baby brother Zaki.

The capital is under the yoke of the Taliban, which enforces restrictions on women's freedom of movement, forbidding wives and daughters from leaving the family home without a male companion.

Following an altercation in the marketplace with a spiteful Taliban enforcer (Noorin Gulamgaus), Nurullah is incarcerated and Fattema and her brood become prisoners in their home.

Consequently, Parvana cuts off her hair and dons the garb of a boy to pose as her cousin Aatish so she can buy provisions and earn money by reading letters aloud to illiterate neighbours.

In her new apparel, Parvana encounters another girl in disguise called Shauzia (Soma Bhatia), who excitedly whispers, “When you're a boy, you can go anywhere you like!”

It is a perilous deception but Parvana is determined to earn sufficient money to bribe a Talib guard at the prison to speak to her father before the family moves to Mazar to seal an arranged marriage for Soraya.

Produced by Twomey and Newry man Tomm Moore's Kilkenny-based company Cartoon Saloon – whose previous features The Secret of Kells and Song Of The Sea were both also Oscar-nominated – The Breadwinner confirms the power of animation to distil complex emotional stories with sensitivity and stylistic flair.

Twomey's parable of defiance skilfully weaves together parallel narrative threads that resonate loudly in the current political climate.

Even its bleakest moments, there are glimmers of hope amid the rubble that dry our tears and swell our hearts.

:: The Breadwinner is at QFT Belfast and on general release from Friday May 25.

THE BREADWINNER (12A, 93 mins) Animation/Drama/War. Featuring the voices of Saara Chaudry, Soma Bhatia, Laara Sadiq, Shaista Latif, Ali Badshah, Noorin Gulamgaus. Director: Nora Twomey

RATING: 8.5/10

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