The Breadwinner (Twomey, 2017)

The thing I most admire about The Breadwinner is the fact that it doesn’t end on a tidy note. I found that commendable. It shows a lot of maturity to avoid the customary scene of hugs and tears after a plot that deals with so much separation and pain. Instead, it leaves it up to us to decide whether such a scene would exist. For some families living in the hellfire of war-torn Afghanistan, it would—but others wouldn’t be so lucky. That liminal uncertainty feels proper for Parvana’s story. She spends so much time in liminal spaces herself that a liminal ending is the only way to go. One scene more, and I think Nora Twomey would’ve ruined it. And the funny thing is, if she had added that scene, she’d have been following the book more closely than this film ends up doing! So sometimes following the source text is not always the best idea.

A few things did bother me, though. The dialogue, for one, sounded too unnatural to my ears. As though Dari had been run through Google Translate and no one tried to smoothen the output, so that most sentences sounded too ungainly in their descriptiveness. I would’ve opted for Dari-speaking actors instead, with subtitled English. The animation, meanwhile, is lovely in parts, yet does not quite capture the expressiveness of the human face (eyebrows aside). The only character animated well enough in this regard is Parvana’s mother, and it’s only because she’s supposed to look like she’s suffered a lifetime of misfortune. The design of everyone else, Parvana included, leaves something to be desired.

Finally, the story here does a very good job of capturing the ugliness and misogyny of Afghani culture (and one can totally understand why Parvana and Shauzia would find passing as boys liberating). However, there’s not very much to it, and most of the ancillary characters are fairly uninteresting. Even the film’s most unsympathetic character, a radicalized Taliban soldier boy, is played with one-note fury. It’s a view of the world that is both accurate and overdone at the same time, so I wasn’t fully onboard with it. But because it sticks the landing (and does it so well), many of these misgivings recede into the background.