The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner is a beautifully crafted animated drama by the Irish studio Cartoon Saloon. The Oscar nominated feature directed by Nora Twomey is based on Deborah Ellis’ bestselling children’s novel with the same title.

The film is set in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where radical Islamic laws prevail that severely restrict the freedom of girls and women. For example, they are not allowed to leave the house alone and don’t receive any education above the age of eight. This also means that life for Parvana is anything but happy go lucky. The 11 year old girl lives with her impoverished family in Kabul. When her father is arrested as an alleged “enemy of Islam”, Parvana, her mother, her older sister and her little brother face existential challenges. In order to buy food on the market and to make a little bit of money for her family by offering services such as translations or letter writing, the girl camouflages herself with a short hairstyle and appropriate clothing as a boy. During the day Parvana does odd jobs with an equally disguised friend, in the evening she escapes the bitter reality by telling her brother fairy tales about a boy who fights against an elephant king in the Hindukush Mountains. However, her desire to visit her father in prison seems to be unattainable…

Director Nora Twomey stages the Taliban dictatorship as a horror scenario, depicting also physical violence which culminates in some tense moments. The pastel and earth-coloured images are full of dust and haze, the grey facades and the melancholy score by Mychael and Jeff Danna create a sense of being locked-in. In contrast, things become more vivid and colourful in the fairy tale that Parvana tells her brother. Carefully told, The Breadwinner is a heart-warming portrayal of the oppressive discrimination against Afghan girls and women by the Taliban.

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