Nora Twomey’s 2018 Oscar®-nominated animated feature, The Breadwinner, based on Deborah Ellis’ bestselling novel and with a screenplay by Anita Doron, tells a story of a family living under an oppressive regime, one that has torn a family apart, and forced a young girl, Parvana, to provide for and hopefully reunite her family.
The use of animation to tell such a horrifying tale is significant. The abuses of power and the degradations suffered by the characters would be almost unbearable to watch without both the distance and the familiarity we feel through animation. The hand-drawn animations of the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon brilliantly show the humanity of all the characters and the beauty of Afghanistan, even during such an unfathomably ugly period of time. One image I chose from the preliminary storyboards shows a sketch of Parvana taking off her head scarf, the hand-drawn animation directs the viewer’s attention to both the simplicity and power of this action.
Stylistically significant to me as an animator was the use of a different aesthetic for the story-within-the-story that Parvan tells her siblings to keep their spirits up. Twomey’s early character design process for Parvan’s made-up story involved cutting out and moving actual cut paper figures. When digitized, Twomey maintained the look of real layers of paper, and the motion of these paper characters is more broad and theatrical. And as always with hand-drawn animation, we viewers can just enjoy the artists’ craft and marvel at the skillfully created worlds Twomey shares with us.
The story in The Breadwinner is important for Western audiences to witness. Mainstream media feeds us a very simplistic good/bad narrative about all things Central Asian, but this woman-led film illuminates the complexity and adds specificity to events happening there. The film follows the struggle to survive in one family, against the backdrop of world events. Early in the film, there is a scene where the young sisters are bickering, while the mother pours water for the father to wash his hands, captured in the screenshot below. This animation, with its limited color palette and a simple golden highlight, brilliantly and gracefully carries the heavy load of this important story.