Movie Review: The Breadwinner

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The Breadwinner is a 2017 Canadian-Irish-Luxembourgian adult animated drama film by Cartoon Saloon directed by Nora Twomey and executive produced by Mimi Polk Gitlin and Angelina Jolie. Based on the best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis, the film was released on November 17, 2017 - Wikipedia

Parvana is an 11-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana cuts off her hair and dresses like a boy in order to support her family. Working alongside her friend Shauzia, Parvana discovers a new world of freedom-and danger. With undaunted courage, Parvana draws strength from the fantastical stories she invents, as she embarks on a quest to find her father and reunite her family. - IMDB

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I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend two of Nora's Q&A's the day of the film's release, one at work and another at the IFC Center here in NYC. In this post I'll be recapping some of the things that Nora shared.

The original author of the novel, Deborah Ellis was involved with every draft of the screenplay. Deborah encouraged Nora to “think of the novel and the film as two different candles and the flame being Parvana going form one to the other and allowing the flame to be as different as it needed to be”. Nora shared that she enjoyed working with screenwriter, Anita Doron because she knew that Anita was visualizing the film as she was writing. This was especially important since the original screenplay was written with the intentions of The Breadwinner being a live action film. 

Nora expressed that it was challenging trying to create common ground between Parvana, an Afghan girl and Western girls. Young girls like Parvana would not make as much eye contact as Western girls because it would have been seen as confrontational in certain areas. Throughout this film we get to see the shift in power dynamics with Parvana and her sister. When she becomes a boy her status changes and and she begins to challenge her older sister and even her mother. In some ways Parvana is neither a boy or a girl. We learn that it is not ultimately about gender. I appreciated the way the characters were handled. They felt real and were very vulnerable. 

When it comes to the visual look of the film, Nora did not want to flatten out the compositions as Cartoon Saloon is known to do in the previous films. In every scene characters faces, their eye direction and how they use their eyes to talk took dominance instead of the composition of the scenery. They also deviated from using water colors as they have with The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea and used acrylic instead. This allowed them achieve the desired look that was much less saturated and didn’t impose too much on the characters themselves. Since cameras were banned in Qatar it was hard for the team to find visual reference. They had to rely on the testimony of people who had been there at the time but have since left. 

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Nora worked with story artist Julien Regnard to visually achieve saying the most with the least be it with the lines, the performance of the characters or the lines of dialogue. Unlike many other animated films it was important to Nora to have one artist produce the animatic of the film from the very beginning. This insured that they had Parvana and the story correct. Once the animatic was in good standing they added 4 - 5 more artist to flesh out the film.

With this film, you could always hear elements that were off screen that we never actually got to see. Nora chose to do this to help the audience feel more immersed in this world. The studio was able to complete all of the  voice recordings in 5 days, which to my experience is impressive and seems unheard of for a feature film animated movie. They ended up recording more dialogue than the needed and this gave them the coverage and liberty to use as much dialogue to form the characters.

What was also impressive to me was that Nora, along with the help of one of the production mangers would act out all of the scenes in the film. She made sure that she communicated as much as she could so that the animators would have a baseline of what was to be expected. From here the animators can embellish the performance or offer better suggestions. 

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Despite being a cartoon, this film is not the typical cookie cutter, wacky, happy go lucky animated movie many of us are accustomed to seeing. There are suspenseful moments and captivating story points that do not undermine a child's ability to comprehend the subject matter, nor is it "too childish" for adults. I highly recommend this film to anyone that can appreciate a good dramatic narrative. 

The Breadwinner is currently being screened in NYC at the IFC Center ( you can view tickets here ). For all other cities in the U.S visit GKids.com It will be shown on TV in Afghanistan next year and will be dubbed in their respective language as well as being shown in Qatar’s upcoming Children’s Film Festival. 

View the official movie trailer below. Also check out my previous post about my visit to Cartoon Saloon in Ireland

* All rights to the images belong to Cartoon Saloon *