Sometimes animation needs to be PG-13. I'm very okay with this being PG-13. I recently read The Handmaid's Tale, which is about a world where women are tortured simply for being female. They have no rights and cannot leave the home without a man at their side. Despite being animated, this is the real world version of The Handmaid's Tale. The sexual stuff is kept at a minimum, but the violence and the abuse is very present and shown on screen. Just because something is a cartoon doesn't mean it can't handle adult themes. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Nora Twomey
It's not going to win and I'm mad. I'm actually a little more mad that the Academy just limited this movie to animation category. Instead, the Best Animated feature award is going to Coco and I can't do anything about that. This studio, the same one that made The Secret of Kells keeps putting out what looks to be top-notch valuable animation. It gets attention from the film folks out there, but commercially kind of always falls under the radar. I often praise Disney on this blog, but Disney might be the reason why this animation studio doesn't get a lot of attention. If you are an expert out there about this animation house, please let me know. For all that I know, Disney is distributing their stuff like they did with the Studio Ghibli stuff. This company actually reminds me a lot of Studio Ghibli with their attention to quality and their comfort with presenting difficult content.
By the way, I'm telling you right now to watch The Breadwinner. Don't watch it with your kids. You'll be tempted, I'm sure. It is very heavy material. But this one showed up on Netflix on the exact same day it was put on iTunes. This was the hard movie to get out of the group. If I had the money or time to watch Ferdinand, I could tell you if it was the best movie right now. I have a feeling that it blows Ferdinand out of the water, but I also have been surprised a few times this Oscar season. The basic plot surrounds Parvana and her family during the Iranian Revolution. When her father is taken for accidentally insulting a religious zealot, Parvana must wear her dead brother's clothes, cut her hair, and pretend to be male to take care of her family. I am really reminded of Persepolis with The Breadwinner. Every so often, I forget that the Iranian Revolution exists. That's because I lead a life of privilege and I tend not to think of the world as a terrible place. Twoney presents a very harsh world. I don't think that Twoney is a pessimist. As extremely dark as this movie gets, there seems to be an optimistic edge to most of the movie. Parvana argues with her mother and sister throughout the film, but Twoney really walks that line to establish that these characters love each other throughout. Their fighting is relatable, but it occasionally comes off as harsher than what might be seen in other family squabbles. This is all reflective of the events surrounding Parvana. Their family fights not because they want to be right. I think that might be the last thing on their minds. But rather the arguments stem out of a need to protect one another. These characters often seem selfish, but that can't be further from the truth. They are on the constant watch for what the best course of action for the survival of the family. It's an argument where everyone is right and that's what makes it interesting. Parvana's need to feed the family and free their father is central to her. Mama-jan's conflict between bringing her husband home and fear of losing another child is her drive. And her sister is helpless to do anything and is constantly trying to figure out how to protect her little sister from danger like she is supposed to do. This creates this conflict that, as an audience member, a conflict where I find myself constantly jumping between who is right and what the right course of action should be.
While the movie presents a proper antagonist in the form Idrees (who performed by the same guy who voices Sulayman), the real success that The Breadwinner can present is the setting as the villain. When Idrees appears on screen, the movie gets so tense I can't handle it. But the movie is extremely suspenseful, even when there officially is nothing going on. I talked about this in the Dunkirk review, but it is almost a horror movie not knowing where the next conflict is going to appear. Every time Parvana leaves her home, there is a pervasive sense of dread that surrounds her actions. Keeping this in mind, the relationships she forms in the film still really work. I'm always worried about her well being and how she is going to escape this torment that is her life, but the friendships that she forms are heartwarming. I'm kind of surprised that the movie allowed itself to be that vulnerable based on what the goal of the movie must have been. I think Twoney had to know that Parvana had to be more than an avatar for children, but rather a message of hope in the most bleak situations. I'm not saying Parvana is perfect. I never vocalized this, but I really wanted to scream at the screen at her. There were so many times that she was frustrating, but that just made her a more compelling character. She was always a kid. She is stripped of her identity, but she also enjoys the new identity that she created. It is unique to see someone discover freedom. That's what Parvana's story is about. It is what other people take for granted being given to someone. I don't mean to get all sappy about it, but there's this moment where Parvana just buys some groceries by herself. Everyone is teasing her because she is unused to social customs. They call her an idiot and all she can really do is laugh. That's such a cool moment. She is aware of the blessing around her and ignores the fact that she is going through a moment that would make another person fall over in tears. She is so well developed and I think that she really works as one of the better animated heroines that I've seen in film.
The one thing I didn't exactly love is a trope that I've seen in too many stories. It is the parallel story. The Breadwinner has Parvana tell a story about a boy retrieving stolen seeds from an Elephant King. The events of the story are meant to parallel the events that Parvana is experiencing throughout the story. The animation style is different. I almost looks like paper doll theatre and that's pretty cool and all...but I've seen it before. It also kind of takes the story out of the grounded nature that it presents throughout. Parvana's world is our world. It follows the same rules and laws, only more so. She lives in an oppressive country and jumping out of that world to the world of fantasy isn't exactly a bad thing, but it is a thing that has happened before in other movies. I tend to see this in serious animation, the metaphor fairy tale. I think Kubo and the Two Strings did the same thing. In this case, it is a bit odd. Parvana is the primary storyteller of this tale and it takes place over the course of weeks in the story. Why has she never finished this story? This is so nitpicky so I really hate complaining about it, but the movie goes out of its way to remind us about the beginning of the story. But these narrative breaks happen so often that I really didn't want to have any reminders. The only thing that I really like about the stories is the way it integrates the character of Zaki. Zaki is adorable. I know that he's fictional animation, but Zaki feels like one of the more realistic children in film. He desperately wants this story to be told, which again brings me to the question of why Parvana never finishes telling the story until the end of the movie. The conclusion to the Elephant King's tale is also weirdly less than satisfying for me. I don't know why it doesn't work. It is an emotional ending that tears down the barriers between fantasy and reality, but I don't really get what it is supposed to be. The movie presents it as a powerhouse moment, but it doesn't succeed as much as it should for me. Not to say that any of the animation or storytelling doesn't work. It just doesn't feel like it works as much as it should in the movie.
I don't want to go any deeper. The movie is absolutely beautiful and might be one of my favorite movies from this year. I don't know who would watch it in my inner circle, but I do want to talk about this movie desperately with someone in real life. Regardless, this one gets my full recommendation, even if you don't get to watch it before the Oscars.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.