“The Breadwinner” is an eye-catching film about a family in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. (Courtesy GKIDS)

“The Breadwinner” is an eye-catching film about a family in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. (Courtesy GKIDS)

‘Breadwinner’ a dazzling account of a family’s fight for survival

The story could be tighter, but the heroine is as intrepid as any Disney princess, and the animation is gorgeous, in the semi-family-geared Afghanistan-set “The Breadwinner.”

The film is directed by Cartoon Saloon’s Nora Twomey, codirector of the animated Irish gem “The Secret of Kells.”

Anita Doron’s screenplay is adapted from a children’s novel — Deborah Ellis’ title book — but the film, which contains dark material involving religious fundamentalism and political conflict, brings to mind the adult-themed animated “Persepolis” and live-action “Osama” as much as it resembles any big-studio animated family adventure starring a plucky girl.

In 2001, in Taliban-ruled Kabul, 11-year-old Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) sits in the marketplace with her former-schoolteacher father, Nurullah (Ali Badshah), who writes and reads aloud letters for a living.

When the Taliban hauls the independent-minded Nurullah off to prison for no legitimate reason, Parvana and her mother, teenage sister, and toddler brother are in danger of starving. Under Taliban rule, women cannot appear in public if they aren’t accompanied by a man, even to work or buy food.

To support her family and rescue her father, Parvana, with her mother’s silent, sad assistance, cuts off her long hair, dons a dead brother’s clothes, and enters Afghanistan’s male world.

The filmmakers have added a secondary narrative, a fantasy adventure involving a heroic boy and a menacing elephant king. Displaying her father’s bent for storytelling, Parvana spins this tale to entertain her brother.

The story-within-a-story approach can be problematic. The elephant-king plot needs more clarity, and the frequent shifting between narratives weakens the main story.

There are missed opportunities regarding the portrayal of Parvana’s situation. Think of the dialogue Pavana and new pal Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), a fellow girl in boys’ clothing, might have shared about their gender-related experiences in a Taliban-controlled environment.

Still, the movie charms and dazzles the eye. Scenes of Afghanistan — everything from a buzzing bazaar to discarded military tanks in a desert landscape — have an exquisitely sandy and captivating, realistic look, and the line-drawn characters convey impressive emotion.

The elephant-king material, which features cutout-style animation and colorful imagery, fittingly suggests the product of a child’s imagination. Sometimes, the animators combine brightness and sadness. Yellow flowers emerging from rocks beautifully signify hope and possibility.

The film also deserves credit for not sugarcoating hardship, even if that means it may be unsuitable for younger kids. While Parvana may rival Hollywood’s animated heroines for courage, she’s not presented as a rule-changing or world-saving supergirl.

REVIEW
The Breadwinner
Three stars
Starring Voices of Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Ali Badshah, Kara Ada
Written by Anita Doron
Directed by Nora Twomey
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour, 34 minutesAfghanistanBreadwinnerDeborah EllisMovies and TVNora TwomeySaara ChaudryTaliban

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Dave Hodges, pastor at Zide Door, the Church of Entheogenic Plants that include marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, holds some psychedelic mushrooms inside the Oakland church on Friday, July 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Psychedelic spirituality: Inside a growing Bay Area religious movement

‘They are guiding us into something ineffable’

A former inmate and a sheriff’s deputy are among the first four members chosen to serve on the newly created Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Years after fight club scandal, Sheriff’s oversight board takes shape

‘We want to promote law enforcement best practices’

More than a thousand people gathered in front of the California Capitol building to protest Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay at home order and demand that the state re-open on May 1, 2020. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)
Newsom blames ‘right-wing pundits’ for COVID surge

By Emily Hoeven CalMatters Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday placed the blame… Continue reading

Strong California revenues will allow the state to commit to offering no-cost food to every student. (Amanda Mills/Pixnio)
How California plans to offer free daily meals to 6 million public school students

By Ali Tadayon EdSource With one in every six children facing hunger… Continue reading

Most Read