The Bread­win­ner a beau­ti­fully told an­i­mated film with a grown-up mes­sage

Calgary Herald - - MOVIES - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­night@post­

In the 16 years since the cre­ation of an Academy Award for best an­i­mated pic­ture there have been 64 nom­i­nees, more than two-thirds from Pixar (18), Dis­ney (13), and DreamWorks (13).

Al­most lost in the glare is a pair from a com­pany called Car­toon Saloon; The Se­cret of Kells and Song of the Sea, two of the sweet­est an­i­mated movies you’ll ever see. And The Bread­win­ner is the third from that com­pany.

Di­rected by Ire­land’s Nora Twomey and adapted by one Cana­dian (Anita Doron) from a book by an­other (Deb­o­rah El­lis), The Bread­win­ner tells the story of 11-year-old Par­vana (Saara Chaudry) grow­ing up in Kabul un­der the rule of the Tal­iban.

When her fa­ther is im­pris­oned, the rest of the fam­ily is caught in a dilemma — without a man, they have no way to earn money; they can’t even go out­side. And so Par­vana cuts her hair, puts on her older (de­ceased) brother’s clothes and heads out on her own.

What fol­lows is a fas­ci­nat­ing take on the gen­der pol­i­tics of the re­gion. As a fe­male, Par­vana suf­fered from a kind of in­vis­i­bil­ity, ig­nored and not spo­ken to ex­cept in re­buke. As a young boy, she is dif­fer­ently in­vis­i­ble, able to wan­der the streets and even pick up odd jobs without any­one look­ing at her twice.

Her new friend Shauzia (Soma Bha­tia), also dis­guised as a male, shows her the ropes, and for a mo­ment one can imag­ine an odd com­edy in which all the street urchins are ac­tu­ally lit­tle girls in boy­ish cam­ou­flage, un­be­knownst to the adult pop­u­lace.

Alas, Tal­iban-run Afghanistan is hardly the place for a light­hearted com­edy — as ev­i­denced by Tina Fey’s so-so Whiskey Tango Fox­trot, and Bill Mur­ray’s mis­fire Rock the Kas­bah.

Par­vana must still try to get her fa­ther out of prison and earn enough to sup­port her fam­ily. For­tu­nately, she’s very good at be­ing a boy, able to read and write (for a fee) for il­lit­er­ate adults.

Par­vana’s story plays out in par­al­lel to a fable that she is telling to her baby brother to keep him quiet at night, and which later she and Shauzia start mak­ing up as they go along. Here the an­i­ma­tion changes styles, the sim­ple yet re­al­is­tic hand-drawn im­ages of the Afghan na­tion giv­ing way to fan­tas­ti­cal pa­per cut-outs for the imag­i­na­tion. Clev­erly, this made-up story, about a boy’s en­counter with mon­sters, will even­tu­ally dove­tail with Par­vana’s own quest.

There are nu­mer­ous tiny de­tails that make this a fully re­al­ized world, not least the oc­ca­sional (and grad­u­ally in­creas­ing), pres­ence of Amer­i­can fighter jets in the dusty sky, or the smoke from ran­dom fires waft­ing in the air.

This is a grown-up story that can (and should) be seen by the young. Look for The Bread­win­ner to cap­ture an­other Os­car nom­i­na­tion for Twomey and Car­toon Saloon, a three-for-three record not even the mighty Dis­ney/Pixar can match.


Nora Twomey tack­les gen­der pol­i­tics with her an­i­mated movie The Bread­win­ner, which is set in Afghanistan and tells the thought­ful story of a girl who must pre­tend to be a boy so her fam­ily can sur­vive.

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