Strong writing, a loveable protagonist and sharp visuals are the basis for the success of the 2017 animated film, “The Breadwinner,” shown at the Charles B. Wang Center. “Stories remain in our hearts even when all else is gone” is a line narrated within the first five minutes of the film, showcasing the robust writing.
The art of storytelling and animation is captured beautifully in “The Breadwinner.” Based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis, the film does a great job of hooking viewers in from the very start. This film adaptation of the beloved novel is directed by Nora Twomey, also known for the 2009 animated movie “The Secret of Kells.”
Parvana is an 11-year-old girl growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan. Here, women have intense restrictions placed upon them, but with her father Nurullah — who has only one leg — it’s up to Parvana to help the family out. Every day, they make the trek to the market, a place bustling with life and vivid colors. Everyone seems to be here, all with the same goal of making a living.
When the audience is dropped into their world, it seems to be a normal day; except on this day, Nurullah is unfairly arrested by Idrees, a member of the Taliban. With the head of the household gone, Parvana; her older sister, Soraya; her mother, Fattema and her youngest brother, Zaki, are left with no elder male figure in the house. Sulayman, the oldest male son, passed away and with no other male relatives willing to travel to Kabul, the family has no options. Parvana feels stuck; she misses her father and now the harsh truths of the real world are being exposed to her. Parvana’s need for her father runs deep, so much so that she begs her mother to travel to the jail to see him. On this journey, Fattema is quickly spotted by a Taliban member and is questioned repeatedly on the whereabouts of her husband. Her excuses go unheard and he begins to beat her.
Visually and emotionally, the film shifts from this moment. No longer is the vibrancy of the city seen. Now, more muted tones of brown and grey are used. Even without words, the movie does its job of communicating with the audience. The heaviness of the film also sets in at this moment, a sort of crossroads that blurs the line between fact and fiction. This scene of a mother being beaten in front of her child is ground-shaking enough to feel real.
Parvana is too distracted by her mission to grab the pieces of the ripped picture of her father that she doesn’t witness the beating. This symbolism of Parvana being protected by her father, even when he is gone, makes for a compelling example of the bond between a father and his daughter.
The gravity of the predicament the family is in becomes clearer to Parvana. Their shared bowl of rice and raisins become smaller and smaller and the stress Fattema is under begins to weigh the entire family down. Parvana decides to shave her head and wear the garments of her deceased brother, becoming the male figure the family needs.
For a while, this is enough. The family has full bellies and plenty of water, but their desire for more — for safety and for Nurullah’s return — overshadows everything else.
Parvana spends time telling another story, one with glaringly large similarities to her reality. It is a story about a brave boy who must go on an expedition to save his community. As Parvana’s life begins to climax, so does the story and the reason behind the death of her older brother is revealed. It is here that the movie falters. The death of her brother is dangled before us and mentioned in passing, but never fully explained; to illustrate his death this way is a disservice and feels lackluster.
Overall, “The Breadwinner” is easily a great watch. It entrances the viewer from the very beginning and keeps us hooked to the very end.