Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Reel Snippet – The Breadwinner

Summary: In the year 2001 deep in Taliban controlled Afghanistan, young Parvana (Saara Chaudra) has fallen on hard times along with her family — her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah), her mother Fattema (Laara Sadiq), her older sister Soraya (Shaista Latif), and her baby brother Zaki. Things get worse when a young member of the Taliban named Idrees (Noorin Gulamgaus) has Nurullah arrested, as law prohibits the women being out in public and a strict curfew keeps them from getting to the prison and back in a timely fashion. To make money for the family and keep them fed, Parvana cuts her hair and goes into public as a boy named Aatish. Finding herself with newfound liberties and respect, she begins to accrue money for her family and for a bribe to see her father. But troubles keep cropping up and as she struggles, she keeps Zaki happy at night by telling him a story about a boy named Sulayman (Noorin Gulamgaus) that mirrors her own struggle. One can only hope that her journey has a storybook ending…

Review: The Breadwinner is a massive wake-up call for anyone who thinks they understand the situations in the Middle East. It’s one thing to hear about it from the news, politicians, and soldiers from either side, but it’s something entirely different to see it through the eyes of a young girl, much less family, in the thick of it all. The animation, on top of being beautiful, allows for a deeper exploration of events and emotions beyond the dialogue. It transported me into the movie’s world, which was not always a happy experience.

The film lifts up the universal issue gender equality, since the entire region is hostile to women to the point where they can’t even go outside. While this is all true, the situations here could also be recognized overseas, such as when Mamajan refuses to get into her cousin’s car, he pulls a knife on her for disobeying him. Toxic masculinity knows no borders and if someone can recognize such behavior in other cultures, they can surely improve their own. Regardless of what someone takes away from this, it was good of the movie not to shy away from showing the ugly truth or cleaning it up for audiences.

The movie reminds me of a book called Haroun and the Sea of Stories, as both involve a father who tells stories and gets stuck under the thumb of a corrupt regime. The Breadwinner is obviously more tailored for adult audiences since the stories that he and Parvana tell are more of a metaphorical escape than a literal fantasy world. The story that carries most of the way through the movie not only filters the main plot through the lens of something simple that the children of the movie can digest, but even shifts with input from the supporting characters. There’s a lot you can read into Parvana’s psyche through this story, particularly how Sulayman and Idrees share a voice and especially with Sulayman’s name, which I don’t dare spoil.

Speaking of Idrees, it would unfair to call him the antagonist — for one, he’s only in a few scenes of the movie and for another, the real antagonist is the regime and cultural norms, which aren’t things that can be so easily defeated by a lone child. However, he does tie into that toxic masculinity theme that I mentioned earlier and it unfortunately requires spoilers. [SPOILER WARNING! INCOMING!] After an incredibly tense scene when Idrees chases Parvana and her friend Shauzia (Soma Bhatia), who also dresses like a boy to get her family money, and even tries to shoot them while shouting threats, he is called back by his Taliban superiors as he is being sent off to fight. He sits in the van, not bold and ready for war, but scared and clutching his gun for support as if it were a stuffed animal. He was fine to flaunt his gun and bravado when he had all the power over civilians, but when faced with actual combat that he may not survive, he was deflated and showed himself as the cowardly child he truly was. [THE SPOILERS HAVE PASSED!] There is so much you could read into that, I’m just going to sit back and let you do your own thing.

What gives the film meaning and weight is that Parvana’s family feels like a real family. They don’t always get along — in fact, they can be quite mean. The sisters snipe at each other and hit some really low blows while also being impatient with their youngest brother. The parents toe the line between supportive and condescending as their children fight and sometimes don’t follow through with certain tasks. But their connection and love also come through as they share many tender moments and their meager food supplies. They have little in an already poor city, but the fact that they have each other is what gets them through these awful ordeals.

Part of this review feels like penance for me because this movie comes to us in part from Cartoon Saloon, an Irish animation studio who made The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Now I love Song of the Sea and to this day, I kick myself for not catching it in theaters because it would have made it near the top of my Best Movies of 2014 list. But make no mistake, my praise does not come from trying to correct past errors — this earns my respect on its own merits. Everyone involved deserves accolades, including Deborah Ellis who wrote the screenplay and the book this was based on. It’s on Netflix right now, so the moment you get the chance, see it. You owe it to yourselves.

Fun Tidbit: If reading that this story of Middle Eastern struggle was written by the Canadian Deborah Ellis put you off from this whole thing, don’t let it. This story was inspired by an interview she did with an Afghani mother and daughter who went through a similar situation in a refugee camp in Pakistan. The best part? There’s more than one book! While they get more imaginative with each book (rather than directly paralleling real events), it’s amazing to know that Parvana’s story continues.

Goto Home Page
Posted under

Social Widgets powered by