Starring: Saraa Chaudry, Soma Bhatia, Noorin Gulamgaus
Director: Nora Twomey
Running Time: 94 mins
The Breadwinner is an Irish film about a young Afghan girl who is forced to go out and disguise herself as a boy in order to provide for her family, after her father was taken away and her mother and sister are unable to leave the house unaccompanied for fear of being caught by the brutal Taliban.
This is yet another film that proves the incredible potential of animation in bringing stories to life in a way that live-action really can’t achieve. Apart from emulating the beautiful storybook visuals of The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea, The Breadwinner is a particualrly moving film due to its passionate portrayal of an unjust society, focusing on terrible hardships suffered for no good reason, and even though it may not have exceptional emotional power at every moment throughout, it remains a riveting watch from start to finish.
Above all, the litmus test for what you will think of The Breadwinner can be taken by your opinion of the the 2007 animation, Persepolis, of which this is incredibly reminiscent. Although there is an argument that The Breadwinner is a slightly more family-friendly film, and not quite as gritty a depiction of an unjust society as Persepolis, the similarities are clear, and this film does just as good a job at offering a powerful and passionate portrayal of such a society, all the while using its animated visuals to bring a completely different dynamic to proceedings.
Let’s start off with what’s by far the most powerful and memorable element of the film. Throughout, the film puts heavy emphasis on the injustices forced onto innocent people by the brutal Taliban, who pervade through everyday life with their barbaric ideology and impose unnecessary levels of suffering on good, honest people.
Much like Persepolis, that element of the story really got under my skin, and as we see this young girl attempt to provide for her family after her father’s arrest, only to be constantly harassed by the Taliban for being an unaccompanied woman, it’s a portrayal of injustice that will definitely get to you, and quickly have you engrossed in the story simply out of frustration for the fact that people are having to suffer under such a backwards ideology.
As a result, the young girl begins to disguise herself as a boy, and although that now enables her to provide for her family a little more and avoid continual harrassment, it opens up another can of worms as we see into how an excessively patriarchal society functions, all the while learning more and more about how the innocent young are affected by such a system, being forced into extreme situations such as that portrayed in this film.
Now, the one issue that I did find with the film’s story is that it didn’t keep up that darker, more intense portrayal of oppression right through to the end. While it’s of course the central theme of the film, the final act of the movie is far more basic and lacking in the same amount of sheer emotional power – to the point where the injustice really gets under your skin – as the opening and middle acts, meaning that I wasn’t quite as moved as I had hoped to be come the end.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to like about the film’s final act. Although the first two are definitely more powerful, the final act moves the story into a far more dynamic setting, as we see our main character thrust into a life-threatening situation far away from any thought of safety.
And that’s where the film’s animation comes in. While this is a story that can be undoubtedly portrayed in live action with a similar degree of emotional power, there’s no way that it can be done without making things very gritty and dark. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing when representing the truth, and it’s something that Persepolis does very well with its own dark animation style.
However, The Breadwinner, through the use of its simple animation style, almost as if you were looking at a children’s storybook, is able to retain a sense of fictional elegance that lessens the more depressing blow of some of the darkest elements of the story. In that, it is a family-friendly film (albeit not one for very young viewers), but what it does most of all is offer a story about injustice in a different light, not falling to the depths of darkness to get its point across, but still providing a somewhat pleasant and elegant watch while continuing to offer a deeply powerful insight into the injustices suffered on a daily basis by so many people.
Overall, I was very impressed by The Breadwinner. Although it doesn’t quite keep it up for all of its runtime, it’s a very moving and emotionally engaging film in general that portrays oppression and injustice in a riveting and powerful way throughout. Couple that with beautiful animation that creates a unique atmosphere of elegance constrasted with the darkness of the story, and you have a genuinely impressive piece of work that really shouldn’t be missed, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6.