The Breadwinner movie review: Oscar-nominated Netflix film is imaginatively drawn out, hauntingly scored

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

June 08, 2018 14:42:28 IST

4/5

Irish animator and director Nora Twomey’s animated film The Breadwinner was nominated for the Best Animated Feature award at the 90th Academy Awards this year. Although it did not go on to win, the film is beautifully crafted, designed and voice-acted. It tells the story of Parvana, a young girl who lives with her family in a village in Afghanistan, under constant fear of the Taliban.

A still from The Breadwinner. Netflix

A still from The Breadwinner. Netflix

Her family comprises of her father Nurullah – a teacher who lost a leg during the war with the Soviets – her mother Fattema – a writer who weaves beautiful stories – her elder sister Soraya, and her baby brother Zaki. When the Taliban arrest Nurullah for refusing to confine his daughter to his home, they take him away to a faraway prison, leaving the family to fend for themselves. In a ruthless world where women are not allowed to venture out of their homes, little Parvana is now left with no choice but to disguise herself as a boy, in order to bring bread to her family at the end of every day. Alongside, she also continues her search for her father, braving grave dangers along the way, and telling the tale of a mysterious young boy who once set out to fight a dreaded monster.

In its 90-minute duration, there is not a single frame in the film which allowed me to look away. Imaginatively drawn out, beautifully designed and hauntingly scored, the film uses fairy-tale motifs to tell a modern day story of a country that was once considered the land of the noble, but was now ravaged by war and left in ruins by the follies of man. There were times when I could not help but draw comparisons with Guillermo del Toro’s exquisitely crafted fable El Laberinto Del Fauno which used similar motifs to tell a story of innocence ruling over greed and fear. But in more ways than one, Nora Twomey’s film stands out and holds its place, painting a grim picture of the atrocities the people of Afghanistan – especially the women – have to face in these dark times.

And yet, in every frame, there is also an unmistakable glimmer of hope, a tiny peep of the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. Which is why, a small but pretty flower stands in the foreground as we see what is essentially a massive graveyard for abandoned tanks spread all the way to the horizon. Which is why, there is bloodshed everywhere, and yet two kids suck on candies at the end of a hard day’s work and dream about a distant sea – "where sometime, people go to the edge of the blue water to do nothing!" Where a man grieves over the death of his wife named Halla, which – as he explains tearfully – refers to the outline of the halo around the full moon. It is these moments of hope that draw you into the film, making you root for the characters as they somehow manage to survive in an impossible fight against a powerful regime. And it is this hope that highlights the final message of the film that says – "Raise your words, not your voice. For it is the rain that makes the flower grow, not the thunder."

I found myself shaken and moved by the film, and I would say that the fantastic visuals had the most to do with it. The rugged and unforgiving beauty of the landscape, the cobblestoned and deserted village lanes, and the ruthlessness of the harsh desert outside the village are all drawn and painted with great skill. The use of light and shade used in the animation creates an aura of hope and grief peacefully coexisting with each other in astonishing and unexpected harmony.

As for the voice acting, 13-year-old Saara Chaudry puts in a whole world of emotions into little Parvana – smiling, crying, giggling, whimpering and vowing in commendable determination to get her father out of the hellhole of the prison. There are moments when you simply will not be able to hold back your tears, for instance in the scene when a hungry Parvana finds herself jumping with joy in the middle of the market on suddenly being handed over all the food she needs for her family – simply because she is disguised as a boy – only to realise moments later that she has lost her identity when she comes home running and her baby brother fails to recognise her. It is a scene that is full of so many emotions – glee, relief, heartbreak, dejection – and yet, there are hardly any words spoken!

The soft, soothing background score by composer brothers Mychael and Jeff Danna aptly highlights the many moods of the film, weaving into itself the characteristic sounds of the desert. But in consistence with the core message of the film, it leaves us with that one note soaring above the rest – the one of hope. Hope, indeed! That someday, everything will be alright, and the beautiful hills and valleys and deserts of Afghanistan will be the land of the noble once again.

The Breadwinner is currently streaming on Netflix.

Updated Date: Jun 08, 2018 15:13 PM