Updated: Apr 5, 2018
Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD copy; 2017; PG-13 for thematic material including some violent images; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes (HD) and Vudu (HD)
Best extra: Commentary with Director Nora Twomey, Co-Art Director Ciraran Duffy, Sequence Director Jeremy Purcell and Animation Director Fabian Erlinghauser
THIS DARK, Oscar nominated animated film reminds us of how good we have it here in the United States. Variety calls “The Breadwinner” “nothing short of exceptional,” and it is … a way to walk in another’s shoes for 94 minutes that sticks with you long afterward.
It’s 2001 and 11-year-old Parvana, voiced by Saara Chaudry, lives with her family in Taliban-governed Afghanistan. She helps her father, Nurullah (Ali Badshah), who was once a teacher, sell items, and literacy – “Anything written, anything read” – in a Kabul marketplace. Until one of Nurullah’s former students has him arrested and dragged off to prison.
The family – Parvana, her mother Fattema (Laara Sadiq), older sister and infant brother – can expect no news of him. They are also left without means to get food, water or fuel. Women are not allowed outside without a male escort. Literally marooned inside their home, the family faces starvation. Neighbors are too busy with their own troubles, and too afraid to help. Desperate, Parvana cuts her hair, dresses as boy, and heads out to save her family.
There are many grim moments in “The Breadwinner.” Fattema is beaten for going outside, unaccompanied, even though she’s wearing a burka. She’s only trying to get to the prison for news about her husband. The film diverts to Parvana as she chases fragments of his photograph, torn to bits by their young Taliban persecutor. Later, we’ll see Fattema’s pain and her cuts and bruises as she slowly heals.
“It’s a balance,” Director Nora Twomey says in the filmmaker’s commentary about the story’s harsh realities. “Depending on how sensitive individuals are, they will disconnect from your characters if it becomes something emotionally too much.”
Co-creators Sequence Director Jeremy Purcell, Animation Director Fabian Erlinghauser and Co-Art Director Ciraran Duffy agree, saying “As artists we’re conditioned to produce something that looks pretty, so it’s a challenge to go into something like this and show the grittiness.”
Still, there are moments of hope and laughter. Parvana has learned the history of her people and heard many stories from her father. She entertains her baby brother with a fable about a boy, who must confront monster jaguars and an elephant god to save his village. These brightly colored scenes are shown in a series of animated paper cut-outs. She also makes a friend, another girl also masquerading as a boy, who dreams of relocating to a beach and selling items to rich tourists. Meanwhile, oppression and war escalate around them.
Based on the popular book by Deborah Ellis, who co-wrote the screen play, “The Breadwinner” shuns stereotypes. It isn’t a movie to leave in the hands of young children, not without an adult to explain things first time around. For older kids and adults, this story engages and educates. For many, it will hit the heart like a blade.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment provides a pristine 1080p (2.39:1 aspect ratio) transfer. The color palette is darker, relying on dusty earth tones for the most part. It upgrades into rich, saturated colors – red, blue, gold, green – when Parvana’s storytelling takes over. Images are simple, yet well-defined and consistent. Black levels are solid throughout.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack delivers clean dialogue, with musical, authentic accents from its international cast, and good, immersive effects. Surround-sound is realistic in the marketplace and other locations. The increasing/fading roar of jets overhead and bursts of gunfire are deep and powerful. Music by Jeff Danna (“The Good Dinosaur”) and Oscar winner Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”), showcased in “Creating the Music and Sound,” combines traditional Arabic and European instruments that lock us into Parvana’s world and adventures.
Find a brief introduction with Director Norma Twomey and Executive Producer Angelina Jolie on the Main Menu. Twomey is known for her work on “The Secret of Kells” (2009) and “Song of the Sea” (2014), which were also created by Cartoon Saloon. Both were Oscar nominated animated films and well worth your time. Both Twomey and Jolie read Ellis’ book, the first in a series about Parvana. As an award-winning author, feminist and peace-activist, Ellis created Parvana’s Fund to support education projects for Afghan women and children.
The audio commentary is filled with production details and personal experiences from Twomey and the creative team. Short featurettes, “Behind the Scenes with the Cast,” “Animating the Film,” “Creating the Music and Sound,” and “Telling the Story” create a nicely detailed making-of. It’s always great to meet the faces behind extraordinary films.
“The Breadwinner” is a beautiful, deeply moving story that will appeal to adults as well as children. It’s one of those rare films that enlighten while it entertains, dealing with serious issues most live-action films never touch.
- Kay Reynolds