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D: Nora Twomey / 94m

Cast: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus, Laara Sadiq, Ali Badshah, Shaista Latif, Kanza Feris, Kawa Ada

In Taliban controlled Kabul, Afghanistan, eleven year old Parvana (Chaudry) and her family – father Nurullah (Badshah), mother Soraya (Latif), older sister Fattema (Sadiq), and younger brother Zaki – get by through selling personal items on the street. Business isn’t always good, though, and when a run in with a member of the local militia, Idrees (Gulamgaus), leads to Nurullah being arrested and imprisoned without charge, things become even more difficult. With money and food running out, and women unable to move about freely unless accompanied by a man, Parvana hits on the idea to look and dress like a boy. She cuts her hair short, wears clothes worn by her deceased older brother, and along with Shauzia (Chhaya), a girl she knew when she went to school and who is also disguised as a boy, she begins to earn enough money to keep her family from becoming destitute. Parvana has a bigger aim, though: she wants to see her father, and maybe get him out of prison. Shauzia helps her get enough money together to bribe the guards, but Parvana’s plan doesn’t work. But as life in Kabul becomes more and more dangerous, the kindness of a stranger, Razaq (Ada), may prove to mean all the difference in Pavarna’s family being reunited…

Adapted from the literary award-winning novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is the kind of animated movie we don’t often see enough of. Dealing with serious topics such as female persecution and religious intolerance in an honest and direct manner, the movie allows us a glimpse into a world most of us can’t even imagine. But like the best animation, the world it presents to us is just as real and just as affecting as if it were a documentary. The importance of the family unit, and the daily struggle to keep it intact, is highlighted by the little sacrifices that Parvana’s mother and sister make in the wake of Nurullah’s imprisonment. For Parvana, her experiences in the wider world – in a male-dominated world – bring both freedom of movement and unexpected restrictions due to her increased responsibility. It’s a dangerous path Parvana is taking, and the anguish it causes her family if she’s late home, is explored with impressive sincerity and pitched at just the right level of paranoia. Likewise, the risk of Parvana being found out, and the knowledge that if she is, everyone in her family will suffer, adds to the tension.

As a result, the movie draws in the viewer and provides them with a sincere, heartfelt story that is peppered with moments of philosophical reflection on the nature of modern Afghanistan, as well as showing that it’s still possible, even in a country ruled by the Taliban, to have hopes and dreams. Parvana hopes to be reunited with her father, Shauzia wants to see the ocean. Neither is unobtainable, but the script by Anita Doron makes it clear that achieving these things won’t be easy. The script also makes it clear that despite the hostility and the religious fundamentalism that the Taliban use to enforce their beliefs, there is also room for personal respect and understanding amongst the “people”. There are other messages to be found (relating to issues such as integrity, the abuse of power, and recurring injustice), but this is a movie about the power of hope and the power of family (a narrative strand that is best exemplified by the story within a story that Pavarna tells when there is a lull in her endeavours, and which features a brave villager taking on a terrible Elephant King). Twomey’s direction is confident, intelligent and humane, while the animation, with its clean lines and vibrant colours, is simple, yet tremendously effective.

Rating: 9/10 – nominated at this year’s Academy Awards in the Best Animated Feature Film category, The Breadwinner is an outstanding movie that features a great voice cast, superb animation, and a story that is compelling, thought-provoking, and ultimately, uplifting; not afraid to pull any narrative punches, the movie offers insights into life under the Taliban, but paints a picture of hope amidst all the suffering, and the refusal of the human spirit to be crushed completely.