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The Breadwinner movie review: a daring girl’s adventure

The Breadwinner green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Beautiful and startling, bursting with both brutality and hope, this animated adventure is too intense for young children, but the brains and bravery of its young heroine will inspire older kids and adults alike.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about girls and women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

Opportunity” means something radically different and simpler for 12-year-old Parvana (the voice of Saara Chaudry), growing up in Kabul under the Taliban in 2001, than what we in the West think of. When her father is unjustly arrested — the charge regards owning books and teaching his daughters to read, both heinous crimes under the harsh regime — her family is left with no male chaperone for her, her older sister, and her mother, leaving them stranded in their home. So out of necessity, she disguises herself as a boy, allowing her to earn money and buy food, neither of which could she do as a girl. But the joy she finds in her new freedom to move about in public, and the new friend she makes in Shauzia (the voice of Soma Bhatia: Poltergeist), another girl disguised as a boy, is tempered by danger, for if she is discovered, she will be beaten, or worse. And her family will suffer all the more.

The Breadwinner, based on the book by Deborah Ellis, may be a cartoon — it was one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Animated Film — but it is probably too intense and too scary for young children. Older kids and adults may find it rough going, too, though the fantasy sequences illustrating the heroic adventure story Parvana tells to her baby brother, and to herself to buck herself up when she’s suddenly in a tight spot, are magical and merry. Director Nora Twomey was codirector on The Secret of Kells and head of story in the animation department on Song of the Sea, and this film shares their warmly compassionate stylization and cultural awareness.

Kabul in the mountain sun is majestic.

Kabul in the mountain sun is majestic.

Some of the film’s imagery is startling — a tank graveyard left over from the Soviet occupation — and much of it is gorgeous: the mountain sun seems to cast the crumbling city as noble and resilient. There is hope, too, in Anita Doron’s script, under the brutality and the repression. Parvana’s love of storytelling comes from her father, who tells her tales of Afghanistan’s place on the Silk Road, proud stories of the nation and heroes past: “We were scientists, philosophers, and storytellers… but we were at the edges of empires at war with each other.” The Taliban is but another blip, another aberration in that story. (The Americans, another empire, are on their way, we know, though Parvana doesn’t.)

And the injustice and inequality to which girls and women are subjected, not just under Taliban rule but wherever we are treated as less-than, takes a smart smack from Parvana’s brains and bravery. There are no limits to what girls and women can do, The Breadwinner knows, except those placed on us.


The Breadwinner is available to stream on Netflix in the US.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.


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green light 4.5 stars

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The Breadwinner (2017) | directed by Nora Twomey
US/Can release: Nov 17 2017
UK/Ire release: May 25 2018

MPAA: rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violent images
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate threat, violence)

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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