The Breadwinner, based off the bestselling novel of the same name, written by Deborah Ellis, tells the emotional journey of Parvana, an 11-year old girl, to reunite her family with her father through sacrifice and facing gender inequality. The film was directed by Nora Twomey and released in 2017. The film won various awards including "best animated feature" by Toronto Film Critics and Los Angelos Film Critics, as well as nominated for a Golden Globe for "best animated feature." (Desowitz, 2018). The film was praised for its visuals and the way it represented real life issues through animation with such truth. Twomey and Angelina Jolie used an Irish animation company, called Cartoon Saloon. Jolie was a big part in the filmmaking because of her background in Afghanistan, she built schools for Afghan (Desowitz, 2018).
The film is set in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001. The story begins with Parvana and her Baba, her father, selling some items as well as offering to read or write something for someone. They are currently under Taliban rule which means women are not allowed outside unless accompanied by a man. Her father, Ali Badshah, was a former teacher and soldier in another war that ended in the loss of a leg. Ali is an important figure in Parvana's life. She loves the stories that he tells, mostly to distract her from the horrors of what is going on around them and as a source to find strengh. While at the market, Parvana unintentionally, draws attention to herself, something that is forbidden under the Taliban rule, and causes both of them to yelled at by Taliban soldiers, one of which was an angry former student of Ali. Later that night, the same group of soldiers barged into their house and arrested Parvana's Baba without cause leaving behind Parvana, her older sister, baby brother and ill wife. This leaves it's own set of challenges because they are all women. They are not allowed to go outside and purchase food alone and the son is still too young to even talk. The next day Parvana and her mother try to go to the prison to release Ali but they get caught which ends in the mother being beaten by a soldier. Later, Parvana tries to get water for her family but is chased back home by Taliban soldiers.
By portraying Parvana's story through an animation rather than a film with real actors on screen, it enables the viewers to form a deeper emotional connection with the characters. It lets the film makers tell a difficult story without the viewer get drawn away by the dangers of the situations (Nunez 2018). Twomey also stated that "if The Breadwinner was live action it would be very easy to emotionally disconnect from the film and to try to protect yourself,” I think that’s the power of animation." It This small separation between cartoon and reality also lets the viewer become more receptive to the horrific stories and events. Animation additionally allows for the "emotional depth of the film to be deeper since the true reference for the pain that the animated character is going through is ultimately personified in the viewer himself" (Nunez 2018). My emotional experience with film reflected what was trying to be done with animation.
One of the first scenes that we see, is Parvana and her dad selling items near the market. The streets and market places are "as vividly realized as anything from the Israeli animated documentary Waltz With Bashir" although it is filtered to capture the "misty 'honey light'" in the morning in Kabul (Kermode, 2018). While her dad is talking aloud, to tell others what they offer, Parvana sits next to him closed off, avoiding eye contact. Close ups are utilized to show Parvana's reactions to the surrounding situations. At this time Parvana looks like she is uncomfortable being outside of the house even though she is allowed since she is with her father. She seems very kept to herself. By avoiding eye contact and any unnecessary movements, she has some fear of the situation. We also see the fear in the small lines near her eyes. The utilization of low key lighting also symbolizes the dark times that Parvana is experiencing in Kabul.
This shot is one of the first story that her dad tells us in the film. It shows four children playing in the park. The sky is blue, trees are green, and have budding leaves. It shows a sense of calmness, happiness and normalcy. The girls aren't wearing headdresses either showing that this is pre- Taliban takeover. Her dad says that this is how it used to be before education was devalued for women. Women had equal rights at school. Parvana's mom was a college educated woman herself. As he describes how Afghanistan turns into a war zone, the camera pans right, following the children who are holding hands as the scene behind them changes drastically.
The lighting of the scene is now low key, very dark, using purples and blacks. The children are holding hands as they run away from the bright sunny sky shown in the previous shot. We only see the the shadows of the children as they keep running to the right of the screen, the camera follows them as the background behind them changes again. As they run, the sky lights up every so often to show the bombs going off in the distance.
As the camera pans right again, we now see fire in the distance, giving the city a pink and purple glow. Still, low key lighting as the kids run by in the shadows. This series of shots happens about 30 seconds time, it resembles how fast the situation became uneasy in Afghanistan as the Taliban took over.
And finally, the last shot of the sequence which was voiced over by Taliban soldiers saying what rights and freedoms of women were being taken away. This shot shows four women in headdresses behind jail bars, symbolizing that women were so stripped of freedoms that it might as well be jail. The coverings of the eyes in the shot are also jail bars. This shot fades showing just the hexagonal shape of the bars on the blue dresses. And zooms out to see on blue headdress until it disappears from the screen.
This is an over the shoulder shot of Parvana, now dressed as a boy in the market. This is one of the first instances in the film after the arrest of her father, that Kabul is depicted as bright with blue skies and lighter colors of buildings. The lighting is important to note throughout this film because it often sets the tone for the scene more than any other aspect of cinematography. In this shot Parvana recognizes the "boy" pouring the tea, who is also a girl and dressed as a boy. She chose the boy name of "Deliwar" meaning brave. This name choice is significant because it shows how the women had to empower themselves through anyway they can. By choosing this name, she is reminded of why she turned herself into looking like a boy and allows her to stay strong during the tough times. This shows self-empowerment through names.
As Parvana is selling items in the market, she is approached by a Taliban soldier, casting a dark shadow over her. He asks where the man (father) is. Parvana is scared but she manages to look him in the eyes and tell him that her father was arrested. This shot is at eye level of Parvana, to show how she views the soldier. But because she is able to look him in the eyes without be too threatened, it shows the courage that she has built up until this point.
The shot switches to a close up of the soldier, with sun shining on half of his face. The solider has broad shoulders, and an elongated face and ears. He as long eye lines showing exhaustion and maybe even stress. He's wearing brown and green, which is continuous of the major colors used in this movie. The shot used is a low angle shot, used to show Parvana's perspective looking at the man. It makes the man look strong and powerful.
This is a two shot, with high key lighting. Throughout the film, Twomey has used lighting to represent different parts of Parvana's journey. When something positive is happening to her, the lighting is brighter and high key, while when something negative is occurring, lighting is low key. The soldier, who will also help Parvana find her dad later in the film, asks Parvana to read something for him, unknowing that she is a girl. This is a powerful moment for Parvana. Although she is not supposed to be educated, she is while this soldier, who is enforcing the rules and wants everyone to hail him, is actually less knowledgeable than she is. Education can be viewed as a source of power here. This is a moment in the movie where Parvana realizes how valuable education is and just how powerful it can be. When Parvana made herself look like a boy, she was a little hesitant but her mom always reminded her that she has more education than most people in Afghanistan and here we see that.
This is one of the interactions with Deliwar. Another two shot is used here to show Parvana and Deliwar talking about what they would do with their money. Deliwar fantasizes about making enough money, escaping Kabul and seeing the ocean to work for herself there. Parvana is inspired by the idea but she would rather save her Baba first than do something for herself. I see this as Parvana being empowered by her father, and sees working for herself as something of a betrayal. Deliwar and Parvana work in the fields together, that requires a lot of physical strength. Although they find the work hard, they are able to finish it. Twomey utilizes a lot of two shots to show Deliwar and Parvana together. We also see them supporting each other in hardships, because they have a lot of similar struggles. Parvana uses stories to empower Deliwar also.
A shot with four people is used here. Deliwar is being hurt by the same soldier that arrested Parvana's dad. Parvana has no fear and fights back to help her friend. In the background of the shot we see smoke coming from factory pipes, and they sky is dark grey. The soldier hurting them is clearly mad as seen by the expression on his face. In the corner of the screen, is the soldier's boss who is just laughing at how physically weak Parvana and Deliwar seem.
Another three shot is used here, with a low angle and darker lighting. The soldier is furious at Parvana for tugging on his arm in the previous in shot and so he turns to her and looks her in the eyes and yells at her. During that time, he recognizes her and realizes that she is the daughter of the man he arrested. Before he can finish his sentence, Parvana hits him in the face and knocks him over. The girls take off running. There is a lot of loud sounds in this scene, complimented with background music that with a quick beat that gets louder as the solider chases them.
There is rapid switching of camera shots to show the anxiety and the adrenaline that the girls are experiencing. Heavy breathing is also heard as the camera goes in and out of close ups of the girls and then back to the soldier. The scene is very tense as a result of the rapid changing camera angles and sounds. The next few shots are close ups of the soldier that chased them and his other Taliban people. He reveals to us that he is fearful as well. At the end of the scene, we learn that the war is starting, but that is unknown to girls, but this is what causes fear
Parvana goes against her mothers advice that is too dangerous to go to the prison. Parvana is the most courageous here than she was at any point in the movie. Using a three shot we are able to see Parvana in the foreground, leading, and her mother and baby brother in the dark background of the house. The music used in this scene is soft Afghan music to symbolize the emotions of everyone involved. The camera follows Parvana as she walks down the porch and then into the streets. Parvana finds Deliwar to say goodbye and asks if she wants to escape Kabul with them. Although Deliwar cannot leave, she gives Parvana her hard earned money to help see her dad. Deliwar sacrificed something for herself for the greater good of another woman.