Favourite Film By A Female Director: The Breadwinner

Here’s a review of The Breadwinner that I wrote for a competition where you had to submit a review of a female-directed film. Hope you enjoy!

Though released only last year, The Breadwinner has earned its place in the canon of significant cinematic contributions by female directors. Utilising multiple varieties of animation to tell its story, the film uses its unique and beautiful visual style to give a platform to women’s stories in Afghanistan, focusing on the young protagonist Parvana and her need to dress as a boy to provide for her family under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Although a dire situation, Nora Twomey draws you in immediately with the inviting colour palette, a rich mixture of warm browns vibrantly offset by jewel tones. Kabul here, whilst as war-torn and damaged as shown to the West in the news, is presented as a place of incredible beauty, in distress but the true home of young Parvana and her family. The government may be patriarchal, but Twomey shows how women provide the core of its culture, even when vilified for daring to exist.

Amongst other potent symbols, hair is an indicator of both gender and freedom in this movie. As a girl, she wears it long and flowing but must keep it wrapped in her headscarf, allowing it to float in the wind only when escaping authority. Alternatively, as a boy, she can wear it freely but must clip it back, restricting her identity and freedom but ultimately keeping her safe under misogynist rule. The subtlety in the visual storytelling throughout The Breadwinner is what truly makes it great; on the surface it is a story of survival, but if you piece the images in both the main plot and subplot together it becomes so much more.

It is certainly refreshing to see an ‘adult’ animation in this vain, as opposed to the immature boy’s club feeling projected by movies like Sausage Party. Though certainly not too inappropriate for children, and likely a useful tool in exposing them to Middle Eastern politics and culture, the emotional maturity is unmatched in any other animations that come to mind aside from Ghibli creations. Even the villains of the piece seem like victims of the political system they support, cruel and misogynistic almost as an unhealthy outlet for adolescent frustration. Twomey does not treat them with sympathy or anger, but with pity.

The Breadwinner truly feels like a collaboration between two unbelievably talented women; Twomey as director, and Deborah Ellis, who provided the original novel and was threatened by the Taliban for it. Filtered through these individuals, the movie is a powerful and unapologetically female outlook not usually felt in films, let alone war films. Frankly, it is a travesty that this masterpiece did not win the Oscar for Best Animated Picture.

For existing in a medium so often condemned as unable to provide true realism, The Breadwinner is one of the most true to life and emotionally affecting movies I have ever seen, animated or otherwise.

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