The BFI London Film Festival had a number of intriguing offerings this year. One of them was Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner – a gorgeous animated feature from Cartoon Saloon – the Irish studio behind The Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea, both of which were nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards (in 2010 and 2015, respectively).
Similarly to its predecessors, The Breadwinner is simple, beautifully animated and lush. Unlike them, however, it dares to tap into a very somber and important topic, namely growing up in a war-torn country oppressed by a vicious political regime.
The film, based on Deborah Ellis’ eponymous novel, is set in 2001 and tells the story of Parvana, an intelligent and mature young girl who lives with her parents, elder sister and baby brother in Taliban-ruled Kabul. When her frail father, the family’s sole provider is taken off to prison for harboring forbidden literature, Parvana, her siblings and her mother are left to starve. Women are forbidden from leaving their homes without being accompanied by a male relative and left with no other choice, Parvana cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a boy in order to help her family survive. Soon she discovers there are others like her and, finding solace in their company and in her own stories, she bravely presses on.
The tale of The Breadwinner is indeed a sobering one. It has been compared to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and the two films do have a lot in common. Both offer a look into a bleak world which seems devoid of freedom and hope. And yet, even under the grimmest of circumstances, the resilient female protagonists find the solace in creativity and strength to continue, despite being crushed under a suffocating regime and – in Parvana’s case – threatened by the swiftly approaching war.
Yet whereas Persepolis deals with mature themes, The Breadwinner portrays the oppressive reality of 2001 Kabul in a manner accessible to younger viewers, without sugarcoating or over-simplifying it.
Powerful and poignant, “The Breadwinner” is a must see and has earned its place in film history next to animated classics such as Issao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, Issei Miyazaki’s Barefoot Gen and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir.
Watch its trailer here: