A girl is forced to dress like a boy in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan to help her family make ends meet in this splendidly animated tale that perhaps relies too much on a parallel account of a mythical fantasy to work.
Cast: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus
Plot: A headstrong young girl in Afghanistan, ruled by the Taliban, disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family.
Awards: Nom. for Best Animated Feature (Oscars)
International Sales: WestEnd Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – Overcoming the Odds; Family
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Directed by Nora Twomey, who co-directed The Secret of the Kells (2009), The Breadwinner is an Irish-Canadian co-production from Cartoon Saloon, which also gave us the likes of Song of the Sea (2014) and Wolfwalkers (2020).
Instead of the usual medieval European settings, Twomey’s work centers on a young Afghan girl, Parvana, whose innocent father is abducted and sent to prison. In order to help her family make ends meet, she is forced to trim her hair and dress like a boy so that she could buy food or sell things at the local market.
Women and girls are forbidden to leave their homes without an accompanying male relative in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, a point made explicit by a scene where Parvana’s mom is subjected to physical assault by a gang of men, which could shock younger audiences even though it is PG-rated.
“You’re not a boy, you’re not a girl.”
Or think about it this way: The Breadwinner will be an eye-opening introduction for kids to another side of the world where people are oppressed and children have no freedom to play in the streets.
Twomey’s film is ultimately family-friendly enough to work its charm on audiences young and old. It is also splendidly animated, and wonderfully scored by Mychael and Jeff Danna who give us a rich Middle Eastern sound to savour.
Yet overall, I somehow feel a bit underwhelmed by its storytelling. Its main narrative is familiar and conventionally told, but that’s okay as the emotions produced are somewhat earned.
There is, however, another parallel account of a mythical fantasy that is meant to dovetail with the main story—it feels superfluous and becomes overdrawn and structurally repetitive at some point. It’s still tolerable though and in line with one of the film’s themes, which is to keep stories alive by continually telling them.