Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

OSCARS 2018: The Breadwinner (2017)

God bless GKIDS. Over the last few years, the distributor have brought interesting, fascinating animated films from all over the world to American audiences. Surprisingly, the company's output has consistently impressed Academy voters. Since 2012, indie, off-beat animated films from the company have regularly grabbed Best Animated Feature nominees. If I'm being cynical, I'd say that GKIDS has become the easy choice for “indie” animation, so the category still seems legitimate to hardcore cartoon people. Whatever the reason, I'm glad GKIDS getting attention for movies that might otherwise be ignored. This year, “The Breadwinner” fills that peg. The latest from Cartoon Saloon, the Irish studio behind the also nominated “Song of the Sea” and “Secret of the Kells,” the film takes a look at a more contemporary setting.

The story focuses on a family living in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Father Nurullah lost a leg in a previous conflict. His wife, Fattema, their oldest daughter Soraya, and their infant son Zaki stay at home. His youngest daughter, Parvana, accompanies him into town everyday to help him sell his goods. Parvana is now old enough to attract attention from men. While defending his daughter, Nurullah is attacked. Later, he's dragged off to prison for possessing educational books. With no other option, Fattema cuts Parvana's hair and dresses her like a boy. Going out into town to work, Parvana discovers new freedoms and challenges.

“The Breadwinner” is animated in a cute, cartoony style but don't mistake it for a typical kids' movie. The film is surprisingly grim. Nurullah is beaten with his own cane. Fattema is attacked by a Taliban member, left beaten and bruised. After assuming her new masculine identity, Parvana witnesses a young women being attacked. The actual violence is frequently kept just off-screen but the focus on sound design and what the witnesses feel make these moments no less intense. Through this lens, “The Breadwinner” emerges as a critique of masculine violence. Women are a constant target of violence and further oppressed by the Taliban's institutionalized sexism. Parvana's world is opened up when she starts dressing like a boy but is still threatened by violent men.

Yet “The Breadwinner” is not just a grim and downbeat story of life during wartime. There's sometimes a humor to the film. After she begins dressing like a boy, Parvana meets Shauzia, another girl who is living the same deception. The two quickly form a friendship, laughing and joking around. (One could even read deeper into Parvana and Shauzia's friendship, considering the two are already violating gender norms.) The audience likes the outspoken, brave Parvana enough that just seeing her finally freed from the subjugation makes you smile. “The Breadwinner” also has its touching moments. A man, who previously encountered Parvana before she started disguising herself, asks the educated girl to read a letter for him. A letter about a relative of his dying suddenly. The man later helps Parvana out, showing that kindness and compassion can extend pass prejudice and religious extremism.

There's another layer to “The Breadwinner's” narrative. Nurullah hasn't just taught his daughter to read. He's also educated her on the history of the area, how Afghanistan has been conquered by one force or another for centuries. At the same time, he's also passed stories and legends onto her. Pavaran has carried this habit for storytelling. Throughout the film, she tells her little brother a story about a boy on a quest to defeat an elephant god. This subplot also makes “The Breadwinner” a story about story telling. The story-within-the-film mirrors Pavaran's own quest, to a degree. Moreover, it shows how stories can help us through our struggles and allow us to uncover our own strengths.

“The Breadwinner” doesn't catch all the balls it throws up into the air. The ending is a bit sudden, the story being wrapped up in a sudden, not-entirely-satisfying ways. Yet the movie remains a touching, surprisingly bracing film. The animated is lovely, the character designs are crisp and the storytelling sequences have a charming, stylized look to them. I'm glad that the film garnered an Oscar nomination, as it surely is one of the best animated films of the previous year. [8/10]

No comments: