THE BREADWINNER: Beautiful, Inspiring, Important
The Breadwinner's captivating aesthetic, heroic protagonist, moments of levity and weighty themes aid in drawing in youngsters and teaching them about the hardships faced by their peers on the other side of the world.
Even as the year approaches its end, the cinema of 2017 is the gift that keeps on giving. Within a few weeks, cinema goers have been rewarded with two strong female empowerment stories that feature a pivotal hair-cutting scene and two essential stories for kids about bravery and courage in the face of hostility. The Breadwinner is one of those films in each category.
Based on a best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner follows 11-year-old Parvana, a strong-willed girl who sets out to do two things: disguise as a boy in order to fend for her family in the dangerous, oppressive territory of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and free her arrested father.
Animation as a tool of storytelling
Her momentous journey is brought to life through gorgeously crafted 2D animation. Color is used to great effect, the muted tones of the Taliban-occupied areas contrasting with the warm, sunbaked city for a clear-cut depiction of hope and despair. Many have suggested that animation isn’t a genre but rather a tool of storytelling. The Breadwinner is perfectly exemplary of this argument. It portrays a time, a place and a people who haven’t had the chance to have their stories told through cinema due to such circumstances depicted in the film.
One exception is the live-action drama Osama, released in 2003, which shares narrative elements with The Breadwinner. A phenomenon in Afghanistan, Osama was directed by an Afghan filmmaker who attributes his sparse filmography to a lack of experienced producers in the industry and starred an actress in the Parvana-equivalent role who now lives in exile after receiving numerous death threats for attending a festival in South Korea without a headscarf. Canadian actors of Afghan descent provide the voices of the English-speaking characters of The Breadwinner, sidestepping any potential whitewashing issues as well as preventing similar controversies to Osama.
Rich frames filled with visual details
Going back to the images, the rich, splendid images are accentuated with how negative space is used in the mise-en-scene, filling the frames with details that are either crucial, beautiful or both. The zooms and transitions augment the storytelling happening in any given frame, expanding beyond the borders or closing in on faces and places to imbue the scenes with critical new narrative elements, suspense and greater emotion. A parallel story involving a young boy’s journey running away from a dragon is a cut-out adventure rendered through digital animation, a fine second-best choice to the costlier real thing.
The Breadwinner is a story that follows characters in lugubrious circumstances but it’s not without moments of amusement, many amusing moments revolving around baby brother Zaki. It’s also, realistically, not without violence but much of it happens off-screen to ensure it’s not too frightening for children. However, sometimes leaving violence to the imagination can be equally as or even more disturbing than showing it.
The Breadwinner: Conclusion
The Breadwinner is an easily digestible story for children, who are ideally the target audience considering Parvana’s persona and the related themes of determination and perseverance. The captivating aesthetic, heroic protagonist, moments of levity and weighty themes aid in drawing in youngsters and teaching them about the hardships faced by their peers on the other side of the world. It’s essential viewing as a lesson in contemporary history and empathy that will also be of benefit to adults too, considering certain global issues.
There are four books in the series of Parvana’s life. Whilst I would love to see Nora Twomey adapt the sequels and continue her journey, I’m excited for whatever she directs next after her incredible efforts making the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells and now The Breadwinner, which is, deservedly, also going to land an Oscar nomination.
How do you think The Breadwinner compares to its literary counterpart? Let us know in the comments below!
The Breadwinner was released in the US on November 17, 2017 and will be released in the UK on the May 25, 2018. For all international release dates, see here.
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