Established in 1999 by Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey and Paul Young, Kilkenny-based studio Cartoon Saloon has released exactly 3 feature length films. All 3 have received Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature Film.
If you get the chance to see The Breadwinner, a poignant and uplifting exploration of a young girl’s life growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan, you’re likely to understand why.
The Breadwinner opens at a marketplace in Kabul in 2001, shortly before the US invasion. To pass the time at their stall, Parvana’s father tells her a story about the various invasions their people have experience throughout history, from Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great to the present. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana is forced to choose between starvation and survival. She cuts her hair, dresses as a boy and begins working with fellow girl-in-disguise Shauzia to provide for her family. The relief and freedom Parvana feels is immediate, but unfortunately later in the film danger overshadows the whimsy.
The film weaves together two separate but complementary animation styles; the first is all clean lines and detailed backgrounds and carries us through Parvana’s everyday life. Parvana uses storytelling as a comfort and an escape throughout The Breadwinner, and the story-world is given its own distinct animation style. The story-world is much more stylized and textured, vibrant with blues, reds and purples, paperdoll-style characters and fluid physics, as we discover when Shauzia starts adding to Parvana’s story and characters pop in and out of existence and transform based on her words!
The attention to detail is stunning, with glimmers on the water, bullet holes and barbed wire throughout and the lush colours at the marketplace all combining to create an atmosphere of cautious optimism and a real sense of place, in contrast to the Disney model of creating settings outside of specific times or places. The inclusion of music from the Afghani women’s choir adds to this visceral sense of Kabul, it is so refreshing to see an animated film that doesn’t simply use culture as window-dressing but instead to provide context for the story being told.
While the film is suitable for a young audience (PG-13), it doesn’t shy away from conflict or gloss over the everyday struggles in Afghanistan but instead shows the multiplicity of stories there and the context behind the current climate. The limitations placed on women in Afghanistan are present throughout the film. But the presence of several characters who either explicitly or implicitly disagree and are willing to help Parvana and her family despite the threat of repercussions both prevents The Breadwinner from veering into white saviour territory and suggests that the US invasion has worsened this situation.
The Breadwinner was created in collaboration with Aircraft Pictures Canada, Melusine Productions Luxembourg and our own Cartoon Saloon (with a composite edit carried out by the makers of Paw Patrol). It’s interesting that with the film going through so many hands, it has managed to retain such a concrete sense of place. In fact, during the Q & A at the Audi International Film Festival screening, we were told that during a preview screening a UN ambassador pointed to the prison and said “I was in that prison for 4 months”. Angelina Jolie was executive producer on the project and her attendance at the world premiere held at Toronto International film festival earlier this year has helped the film get mainstream, international attention – but this is not Hollywood lip service, Jolie had set up a school for young girls in Kabul years prior and her humanitarian work is well documented.
Ultimately, as Director Nora Twomey said of The Breadwinner – “It’s a question, it’s not an answer- what is one girl’s life worth?” (5 / 5)
This film will be released in Irish cinema’s on 25 May 2018.