Irish Film Review: The Breadwinner


DIR: Nora Twomey • WRI: Anita Doron, Deborah Ellis • PRO: Anthony Leo, Tomm Moore, Andrew Rosen, Paul Young   ED: Darragh Byrne • MUS: Jeff Danna, Mychael Danna • CAST: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus


The Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon have cemented themselves as an animation powerhouse. Such a claim may be lofty for any other young animation studio, but not for one with three feature films and just as many Academy Award nominations.


The first two films, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, breathe new life into Irish folklore. They allow myths and legends of custodial seanchaí to find a new home on the cinema screen. Tales survived in largely Gaeltacht areas have been transposed onto a world stage, with international critics comparing Saloon’s work to that of Pixar or Japan’s venerated Studio Ghibli. Their Irish cultural heritage has played a major role in establishing the identity for which the studio has become so acclaimed. If it’s not broke; don’t fix it, right?


For this reason, it may be of surprise to some that Nora Twomey’s follow-up to The Secret of Kells takes place 6,000 kilometres from Trinity Library. The Breadwinner tells the story of Parvana, a young girl living in Afghanistan under Taliban control. Her story is a harrowing one of severe hardship and perseverance in the most dire of circumstances.


Perhaps too intense for young children, the film wastes no time with throwing its characters into misery. Parvana’s father, a former teacher insistent on the value of banned books, is arrested and imprisoned by the Taliban in the first ten minutes. What continues is a spiral of disrepair, tinged with stretches of hope and sorrow. There are very difficult moments – violence towards the child protagonist is not presented as comic peril, but rather a horrifying reality. So much misery would wear down a viewer, but the film endures with an aching humanity that is optimistic but not naïve.


The optimism inherent to The Breadwinner rises from its deep love of storytelling. Truly, this is a story on the necessity of stories. Not only does Parvana’s father preach storytelling as a tenet, Parvana herself tells a story of her own throughout the film – a Campbellian myth of a boy fighting a mountainous elephant – all of which expertly echoes the dramatic beats of her own life. This film-within-a-film is made distinct through a whole new animation style. The clean pencil lines and simple shapes of the main film are traded in for computer-simulated construction paper. The stylistic shift is refreshing, although the segments bow down to slapstick a bit too frequently. Tonally, it’s jarring; conceptually, it’s quite clever. Cartoon Saloon cannot seem to escape its obsession with stories and myths.


In today’s world of cultural appropriation (and the larger blowback against cultural appropriation), one may question the move of an Irish animation studio to make a film so distinctly Afghan. Luckily, the culture is depicted with care and strong attention to detail – there is nary a Celtic trace to be found. The beautiful animation feels graceful and lived-in, never depicting an “other”. The absence of any American characters speaks to commitment in showing the Afghan perspective – we see the start of the American War in Afghanistan, but Western characters cannot be found beyond a few anonymous planes. The geo-political background to the War is unknown to our characters. Hell, the war itself remains unknown until it reaches their doorstep.


Despite the content being quite intense as previously described, The Breadwinner imparts valuable lessons that braver children will surely take on, have they the perseverance to hear them. The necessity of stories. The necessity of action in troublesome times. The necessity of compassion in the face of pain. All told through the eyes of a child. The film’s commitment and endearment to the power of storytelling is self-evidently proved by the rousing emotions it provokes.
Cian Geoghegan
12A (See IFCO for details)
93 minutes
The Breadwinner is released 25th May 2018
The Breadwinner – Official Website



Irish Film Review: The Breadwinner

Anthony Kirby was at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival to see the Angelina Jolie executive produced Irish animated film The Breadwinner, which is being tipped for Oscar success and was recently awarded Best Animated Feature by the LA Film Critics Association.


Set in Kabul at the height of the Taliban regime, The Breadwinner is a vivid adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ children’s novel about a twelve-year-old girl forced to disguise herself in order to provide for her mother, sister and toddler brother.

Parvana, voiced by Canadian Saara Chaudry, is tolerated by authorities as an aid to her father, a former teacher and poet. In one vivid 20-second scene at the commencement of the film he reminds his daughter of the great culture they’re part of and that Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, The Portuguese and the British were unable to conquer them. Parvana replies that “she’s too old for stories.” Later, however, she concocts a mythical story about a killer elephant hiding in the mountains terrorizing people in the plains, to entertain her young brother. This fantasy parallels the realistic story and is beautifully illustrated and narrated.

A young zealot forces Parvana’s father to rise from his street stall and when the invalid man is slow to obey, because of a limb lost in conflict, the zealot has him imprisoned. Parvana is now the sole support for her family. She displays a maturity well beyond her years; knowing that, as a young woman, she simply can’t work; she cuts her hair, dresses as a youth and occupies her father’s work area. She’s aided by Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), a school friend. Parvana also reads and writes. These skills help her gain the friendship of an older man with prison connections. The change in Parvana’s fortunes is mirrored in the animation, which now is more vibrant and colourful. Parvana’s obsession to rescue her crippled father from incarceration is mirrored in the episodic mythical story she concocts for her toddler brother of Sulieman, a brave young boy who travels to the mountains to battle the Elephant King and free an oppressed people.

The allegorical story, threat of imminent war, further bloody conflict and a family fleeing terror build to a shattering crescendo as fighter jets soar overhead, bombs begin to fall, and bedlam reigns in the prison where Parvana’s father is held. A later injection of poignancy, relating to the death of Parvana’s older brother years previously, gives even greater emotional impact to a film that is beautifully constructed, elegantly visualized and an object lesson in love conquering hate.

Irish director Norah Twomey and her team have enhanced a classic children’s epic and made it available to a wider audience. Because of its violence the feature might be too strong for children younger than six, however, the story and its feminist hero will definitely appeal to older viewers and possibly teenagers.

A major achievement for  Twomey and her Kilkenny collaborators at Cartoon Saloon, The Breadwinner is worthy of a wide viewing audience.

The Breadwinner will have its Irish premiere at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on 22nd February 2018.




‘The Breadwinner’ Premieres @ ADIFF

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival has announced the Irish premiere of Nora Twomey’s animated feature film, The Breadwinner.

The Breadwinner, directed by Nora Twomey and executive-produced by Angelina Jolie, will make its Irish premiere at ADIFF 2018. Co-produced by the award-winning Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon (The Secret of Kells,The Song Of The Sea) and based on Deborah Ellis’ acclaimed novel, The Breadwinner tells the extraordinary story of an 11-year-old Afghan girl Parvana, born into an ever-changing world of conflict and Taliban oppression, who must disguise herself as a boy to become her family’s sole breadwinner.

On behalf of everyone who worked on The Breadwinner, I am delighted that the film will have its Irish premiere at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival,” said Kilkenny-based Director Nora Twomey. “The festival has a long history of presenting  exciting films from across the globe and we are all so proud to be part of it this February.”

With a team of over 200 animators, artists and actors from around the world, Twomey has created an innovative mix of 2-D animation with acrylic and digitally painted environments, as well as digital paper cut–out segments, all blended into a captivating story about family, friendship, and imagination. The film is a co-production with Aircraft Pictures Canada, Melusine Productions Luxembourg and Irish animation studio, Cartoon Saloon.

The Irish premiere of The Breadwinner will take place on February 22nd, 2018 ,at Cineworld Dublin, on Parnell Street.