The Breadwinner




An animated film that should be seen despite some questionable elements.

Breadwinner, The


This is a film which in my eyes at least loses its way towards the end - and that’s a great shame because up to that point it has been stunningly good. The Breadwinner is an animated film telling a story set in Kabul and, as such, it is a work that can be seen as a successor to such titles as Persepolis (2007) and Waltz with Bashir (2008). The surprise is not that it should use animation to tell a serious tale about Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban but its provenance: the director is Nora Twomey of Cartoon Saloon and she, with Tomm Moore (who is also involved here), shared the directorial credit on The Secret of Kells (2009) which, together with 2014’s Song of the Sea, suggested that this talented Irish group was committed to legendary tales rooted in their country’s folklore. Consequently for them to turn to this foreign setting in an adaptation of Deborah Elllis’s children’s novel is an unexpected move, but it is definitely a success for much of its length.


Filmed in English but with an ethnic voice cast, The Breadwinner is the story of Parvana who, after her father’s arrest by the Taliban, cuts her hair to pass as a boy - that being the only way that she can go shopping and take on work to help support her family which includes a baby brother as well as her mother and older sister. Despite the fact that animation creates its own world and can thus be thought of as a stylisation, The Breadwinner presents us with a narrative that seems intensely real and which avoids offering a sentimental vision. By way of contrast, we see also, illustrated at intervals, a fairy tale which is told by Parvana at her brother’s request: it fits in quite naturally as an example of how stories can help sustain us especially when one is a young child.


The impact of The Breadwinner is such that, aided by the high quality of the animation, it feels as though it will emerge as a triumph. But then we have the final quarter of an hour which is far less effective: there is a misguided attempt to fuse the main narrative with the increasingly obtrusive fairy tale which takes on a fresh relevance and this undermines the film because these two elements belong ultimately to two different worlds. In addition, late on, there are plot elaborations which, coming at a time when the main storyline involving Parvana’s attempt to see her father in jail is reaching its climax, seem an unnecessary distraction. It also means that there is at best a limited resolution to the story and that, even if it confirms the film’s wise avoidance of sentimentality, is less than fully satisfying. Nevertheless, both adults and teenagers (the latter presumably the book’s chief target) will be missing a deeply engaging and engrossing film if they fail to see The Breadwinner. It may not be perfect but it undoubtedly deserves an audience.




Voices of  Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Laara Sadiq, Shaista Letif, Ali Badshah, Kawa Ada, Noorin Gulamgaus, Patrick McGrath, Finn Jackson Parle.


Dir Nora Twomey, Pro Anthony Leo, Andrew Rosen, Paul Young, Tomm Moore and Stephan Roelants, Screenplay Anita Doron, from a story by Deborah Ellis from her book, Ph Sheldon Lisoy, Art Dir Reza Riahi and Ciaran Duffy, Ed Darragh Byrne, Music Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna, Animation Dir Fabian Erlinghäuser.


Aircraft Pictures/Cartoon Saloon/Melusine Productions/Jolie Pas Productions/Telefilm Canada/The Irish Film Board-StudioCanal.
93 mins. Canada/Ireland/Luxembourg/USA. 2017. Rel: 25 May 2018. Cert. 12A.