“THE BREADWINNER” — 3½ stars — Voices of Saara Chaudry, Laara Sadiq, Ali Badshah, Noorin Gulamgaus, Shaista Latif, Soma Chhaya; PG-13 (thematic material including some violent images); Broadway
Nora Twomey’s “The Breadwinner” is a creative and critical piece of animation that traces the story of a young woman in Afghanistan who has to disguise her gender in order to save her family.
Twomey’s film is set in Taliban-occupied Kabul, in Afghanistan. Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) is a young girl who spends her days in the market with her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah), selling wares while he rehearses the history of their once-great country.
Initially, Parvana has little interest in his nostalgic yarns about the Silk Road and the culture that used to thrive before their circumstances became so dark and oppressive. But when Nurullah is taken to prison after an altercation with a young Taliban officer named Idrees (Noorin Gulamgaus), Parvana comes to appreciate her father’s true value.
Parvana’s older brother Sulayman died months earlier in a tragic accident, and her younger brother is still an infant, so without a man in their home, Parvana’s family feels the full wrath of Taliban restrictions. Women aren’t allowed to go out in public on their own, so there is no way for Parvana, her mother Fattema (Laara Sadiq) or her sister Soraya (Shaista Latif) to get food. But Parvana eventually stumbles onto a plan. By cutting her hair short and donning Sulayman’s old clothes, she can pass for a young boy.
Parvana’s disguise allows her to travel freely in male-dominated Kabul, and while out and about, she meets Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), another young woman with the same idea. Parvana is soon able to get food for her family working various odd jobs, and with Shauzia’s help, she starts to put away money in the hopes of bribing her way to her father’s freedom. But the presence of the Taliban is always a threat, and in the background, the rumblings of nearby battle suggest even greater changes are to come.
Periodically, Parvana breaks away from the film’s main plot to narrate the story of a young boy who sets out on a quest to overthrow a fearsome Elephant King. To succeed, the boy must obtain artifacts that shine, snare and soothe, and his tale quickly comes to reflect Parvana’s own journey to save her father from prison and her family from ruin.
“The Breadwinner” is mostly presented in traditional cell animation, which feels refreshing in a field that has frequently deferred to mediocre CGI for pedestrian productions. But for its subplot about the boy and the Elephant King, the movie breaks into a more unique animation style that almost seems to animate origami-looking characters with a stop-motion effect.
Thanks to its adult story and themes, “The Breadwinner” isn’t a great animated match for young children, who would be better suited to watch something like Pixar’s new “Coco.” But Twomey’s film shouldn’t be limited to adults, either. “The Breadwinner” might work best as an entertaining and educational film parents can see with their older children, who will be better prepared to take in its message.
There are plenty of films out there — both documentaries and live action — which make the plights of others around the world (and especially in the Middle East) both visceral and sobering. “The Breadwinner” offers that same effect, though through very creative and artistic means.
“The Breadwinner” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violent images; running time: 94 minutes.