Cinematic Releases: The Breadwinner (2017) Reviewed

Living in the Information Age, with it's 24 hour news cycle, hardly a day passes where we do not hear stories about the unrest in the middle east. In addition to this, our society is currently embroiled in a collective conversation about the female experience. The release of the animated film The Breadwinner in the midst of all this feels appropriate as it has a foot in both worlds. Director Nora Twomey, who's previous film The Secret of Kells (2009) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature brings us the story of Parvana, an Afghan girl who is forced disguise herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. Taken from Debrah Ellis' best selling children's novel by the same name, The Breadwinner asks the audience to confront our ideas about gender and relationships through the lens of extremism.

“When you are boy you can go anywhere you like” goes the tag line of the film. Which captures perfectly the world of Parvana in the Taliban-dominated Kabul of 2001.  Here women are forbidden education, to purchase items in the market and even to leave their homes unless covered and accompanied by a male relative. So in the eyes of girls like Parvana, to be a boy is to be free of gender because gender in this sense is a prison. However, even as the audience is confronted with the stark sexism in these women's lives, The Breadwinner also asks us if being a male in this world is actually to be free? From providing for their families to fighting for the Taliban, we discover the male characters in this film may also be confined by gender.

Parvana's father Nurullah is one of the male characters who does not share the values Taliban. Instead he is a teacher who values the education of his daughters and uses the power of stories to educate them.  Cartoon Saloon's mix of 2D vector animation with traditional animation in order to differentiate these tales from the main plot gives Parvana's sobering reality lighthearted charm even though the subject matter of these stories is just a reflection of her reality. It is these stories that link father and daughter, brother and sister and shows us that gender is irrelevant because of our shared experiences.

Female heroes like Furiosa of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Wonder Woman (2017) have received a lot of attention due to the usual one-sided, male focused heroes which we have become accustomed. And even though Parvana is the main hero of The Breadwinner, the heroes of this film actually jump between male and female characters and show the audience that keeping score of which gender gets to be the hero is irrelevant. A daughter can find a hero in her father just as easily as a father can find a hero in a daughter. Because in daily life the fate of men and women are intertwined.

In all the subject matter of consequence in The Breadwinner, it is this father-daughter relationship that gives the film it's strength for me. Films like Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) and Mulan (1998) also come to mind when I think of the father-daughter hero dynamic. I think this is because I believe it is with daughters that fathers can have the most impact. Maybe it is within their daughters that the words of fathers live on because it ignites the hero inside them.


-Dawn Stronski