Director: Nora Twomey
Nora Twomey is an Irish artist/director known for three films: The Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner, all of which were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Film in their respective years. That’s an impressive feat, given that these aren’t Disney, Pixar, or Lego movies, that they’re instead indie films that attempt to present sophisticated story lines to young audiences through hand-drawn animation. No knock on Disney/Pixar, I love their work as much as the next current parent who grew up in the 80s and 90s, it’s just refreshing to also see a slightly different perspective. GKIDS, the distribution company that was in charge of Twomey’s pictures, also brought Studio Ghibli to American audiences; that’s all I would have needed to know, that would have made me trust anything they chose to present. And so it’s no surprise that The Breadwinner is an amazing animated feature, that it’s richness and uniqueness shines through in every cell, that it’s one of the very best of not only its year, but of its decade.
Parvana lives in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001, during the control of the Taliban. These religious zealots hold the countryside under their sway, instituting harsh curfews, gender laws, and intimidating the public into following every command of even their rawest recruit. Women are not allowed to leave the house without a grown male relative as an escort, female faces and hair must be covered at all times so that they don’t tempt men to stray from the righteous path, girls are not allowed to work or to buy food, and any rule breakers are taken to prison immediately. Paravana lives with her family as quietly and as carefully as possible, not wanting to draw the attention of the armed soldiers who walk the city streets, not daring to stand up or speak out.
When he angers a young Taliban fighter, Parvana’s father is arrested and her house is raided, destroying the simple life in precarious balance that her family was trying desperately to cling to. Now, with only women in the household since Parvana’s older brother Sulayman died, there is no one to go to work, no one to buy food, and no way of seeking help, as the mother and the sisters can’t even walk through the door without being beaten and sent straight back. So Parvana does an extremely brave and incredibly necessary thing; she cuts her hair, puts on her brother’s clothes, and calls herself by a boy’s name, completely changing who she is on the outside in order to keep her family alive. Out in the city, which has now opened up to her in a way it never would before, she can feed her family and search for her father, even as war comes nearer and the danger of being discovered mounts.
With its animation and its message equally strong, The Breadwinner is a film that you must see, a story that you must hear, and an experience that you must have. I fully enjoy Disney princess musicals, I love how open Pixar movies are to every member of the family, I crack up watching Lego movies, but there is something about an animation team that is willing to step completely out of the box and risk everything on an unorthodox plot and delivery that really gets me fired up. Laika, Ghibli, and the people who brought us this fine trio of international, animated instant classics, all aided by the eye of Nora Twomey; if you aren’t expanding your horizons to see movies produced by these companies and these people, you are doing yourself a great disservice. And you are holding back something special from your kids as well, for while these films take themselves seriously and should perhaps be screened before being shown to some younger, more sensitive audiences, they are among the most powerful animated tales being told today, and they deserve to be allowed to wow you.
As far as the film itself is concerned, its a credit to its genre, another incredible reason to follow/watch/talk about indie animation and to share it with your kids so that they can be educated in film beyond the typical. It’s a story that resonates, even though it is set 17 years ago. We’re still talking about women’s rights, we’re still talking about terrorism, we’re still talking about gender roles, and this film touches every base on its way home. The depth of meaning, the beauty of backdrop, the simplicity if idea, the imagination of presentation; this is all you could ask for. The music, the color, the secondary tale, the authenticity, the poignancy; I’m having trouble nailing down the exact positive attributes of this feature only because there are so many and they are so broad. Regardless of my inability, The Breadwinner never stumbles when presenting its point, and it does so with wonderful accuracy and talent, in every single scene.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 (1080p HD Widescreen), the video quality of this Blu-ray disc is phenomenal, with visuals that will take your breath away. Not only is the animation flawless in its simplicity, but it’s stunningly realistic as well. And then there is a tale within a tale that uses a different style of animation, much more 2-D and paper-like, but it adds another dimension that really captures the eye.
Audio – The disc was done in English DTS HD 5.1, with subtitles available in English SDH. The language is English, this isn’t a naturally subtitled pictured, at least not here in the U.S., if that makes a difference to you. It’s set in Afghanistan and features native music, so the blend between Afghani and English is a tricky weave, but extremely well done.
Extras – There are many special features on this Blu-ray disc, including Feature Commentary with the Filmmakers. Also, in The Making of The Breadwinner section: Behind the Scenes with the Cast, Animating the Film, Creating the Music and Sound, and Telling the Story. Lastly, a Theatrical Trailer and More from GKIDS.
Highly Recommended. Last year’s animated class wasn’t extremely strong, but even if it had been one of the best groups of recent memory, The Breadwinner would still have earned its place among the nominees. It’s a relevant message well told, from every angle you look at it. We need to hear this story, its importance hasn’t disappeared, and it’s presented so well, with such solid artistry, that is has a real chance to make a big difference, if we would only let it. The video is awesome, the sound it great, and the extras are plentiful, so the technical aspects support the storytelling quite nicely. If you missed this movie last year, give it a chance now; it may not be what you’re used to, but it might show you why it should.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay