Review: The Breadwinner

By Adriana Fiorante

The Breadwinner (2017) is an animated co-production between Canada, Ireland and Luxembourg about a young girl, Parvana (Saara Chaudry), surviving the Taliban’s seizing of her hometown, Kabul. In the plot, Taliban soldiers Idrees (Noorin Gulamgaus) and Razaq (Kawa Ada) take Parvana’s father (Ali Badshah) to prison for committing the crime of keeping forbidden books in his home and teaching women to read. The main focus of this film is the lack of rights Afghani women have under the Taliban rule. To combat the restrictions imposed on women and girls, Parvana cuts all her hair off to make herself look like a boy so she can buy food, get water, and work so her family can survive. She meets Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), another girl who is acting under the same disguise.

Feature image courtesy of thebreadwinnermovie via Instagram

Hearing the plotline, you might think The Breadwinner is similar to other animated coming-of-age films based in a war-torn Islamic country, such as Osama, Persepolis, Waltz with Bashir, or The Kite Runner. But while these films show vibrancy, detail, developed characters, and rich plotlines, The Breadwinner falls short on most of these aspects.

Overall, despite its high praise - three Canadian Screen Awards, a European Film Award, and an Oscar nod - I was disappointed. From the beginning, any threat of danger seems more like a plot device than something that instigates or motivates the characters’ arcs, as Parvana’s entire family is almost unbothered by the Taliban men wielding machine guns that surround them. At one point, Parvana’s father speaks back to a Taliban member who is armed with a gun, her mother later argues with one of them, and Shauzia and Parvana both run around the streets of their town, treating it more as a playground than a war zone. The film almost trivializes the Taliban rule to create a family-friendly film.

Some may argue that the character’s lack of fear is because the characters are all very brave, but in my opinion, it seems implausible that they would all be so unfazed by violence and willing to test their luck in front of trigger-happy extremists. For me, it felt more like there was no real threat of violence and that the soldiers were just there to show the audience that life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule is rough. Not only does nobody seem to actually worry about those keeping them from freedom, but no character suffers a fatal punishment; displaying the unrealistic idea that the Taliban members use their gun as a prop more than a tool for cruelty and oppression.

Deborah Ellis, the author of The Breadwinner novel stated in an interview with CBC news that Parvana “[is] a girl who is not at all interested in being heroic or strong or brave or anything ... But she rises to the circumstances that life throws at her.” To me, this seems like Ellis is defending herself from any criticisms of creating a one-dimensional character that has no real objectives or drive. Parvana is apparently uninterested by bravery and strength, and yet those are two fundamental themes throughout the novel and the film. What I believe Ellis and the rest of the creators of this film fail to notice is that for a woman or girl to survive in extremist areas of the globe; they cannot have a devil-may-care attitude. Women and girls of Afghanistan under Taliban-rule were forced to wear a burqa while in public at all times, were not allowed to work and were not allowed to pursue an education past the age of eight, or they face being lashed or hurt.

For the most part, the film lazily pushes through the motions of storytelling without any real passion or much attention to detail. For instance, Parvana mentions she has a brother who passed away, but his life and death is relayed in very limited detail, despite the evident fact that it affected Parvana and her family significantly. This could have been elaborated.

Additionally, the film is incomplete in its character building. Parvana’s father is one-dimensional and seemingly used as nothing but a plot device to give Parvana an objective throughout the movie. Parvana’s sister Soraya has virtually no characteristics besides fulfilling the stereotypical older sister trope - as she consistently nags Parvana and is concerned with nothing but her appearance - and being an object that her mother can arrange into a marriage.

The Breadwinner follows parallel plotlines; the second being the story of the Elephant King, a folk tale Parvana relays to her friends and family. The plotline of the Elephant King weaves together and mirrors the plotline of the primary story. It is about a young boy whose village is victim to theft by a gang of tigers who steal their crops and seeds produced in an otherwise successful farming season. The villagers will starve the following year if they do not have the seeds, and so the young boy journeys out to defeat the gang and their leader, the Elephant King, to claim their seeds back. Although the Elephant King story is a substantial part of the film that is meant to mirror the reality of Parvana’s life and act as a means of entertainment to distract those around her from their reality, it is abruptly brought up at random and inconvenient times that don’t really highlight how the plotlines are mirrored, though it sloppily attempts to do so.  

Photo courtesy of thebreadwinnermovie via Instagram

On top of all of this, the climax of the film occurs abruptly with no precursor or tension building apart from Taliban soldiers shouting in the streets that a war has started, just in time to save Parvana from certain death. The film does little to explain who is fighting against who and why they are doing so, relying on the audience to already know the details behind the Afghanistan War.

However, this lack of detail makes sense, as the majority of the film’s creators are not of South-Asian descent. Nora Twomey, a white, Irish woman directed the film. The screenwriter, Anita Doron, is a white, Hungarian Canadian woman. The producers are four white men, two of which, Andrew Rosen and Anthony Leo, are Canadians. The entire cast is South Asian Canadians, with three members being Afghan. While it is accurate and admirable to cast South Asians in a movie set in South Asia about South Asians, having virtually no inclusion of these voices behind the scenes seems to work against the film’s ability to accurately relay the complexities of Taliban-run Afghanistan.

The overwhelming aspect that reveals how inadequate and ill-equipped the filmmakers were at doing justice to this story is the terrible accents performed by most of the cast. Ada, a very practiced Afghan Canadian actor, doubled as the dialect coach for the film. Still, much of the cast sounded more like a non-native speaker’s idea of what an Arabic accent should be rather than a native Dari or Pashto speaker.  

The animation, however, salvages some respectability for the film, as it is lively and expertly uses bright reds, greens and blues when Parvana is telling the story of the Elephant King, and dull yellows, browns and blacks when she is in Kabul, showing the stark contrast between her dream life and reality. The animation was done in part in Canada’s Guru Studio, The Breadwinner being the company’s first feature film.

While The Breadwinner is beautifully animated with creative aspects, it is hard to get past the uneven plot, rushed ending, and weak details. It is even harder to relate to a character’s struggle when they are given little to no attributes, as sympathetic as their plights are.

Video courtesy Movieclips Indie via YouTube

Top Canadian Oscar Winners

Oscar-season is officially over and this year brought Canada's fair share of homegrown nominees. Let's take a look back through the history of the Academy Awards to look at Canada's most notable winners. 

1. Mary Pickford


Mary Pickford of Toronto won the second Best Actress award in Oscar history (however the first award for an actress in a talkie) for the 1929 film, Coquette. Although Pickford retired shortly after from acting in 1933, she would receive an honorary Oscar at the 1976 Academy Awards for her contributions to the world of film.

2. James Cameron


For producing the (then) highest-grossing film of all-time, James Cameron won Best Picture, Best Director and Film Editing in 1997 for Titanic, which earned a record-breaking total of 11 Oscars.  

3. Norma Shearer and Marie Dressler

Continuing the trend of Canadian actresses dominating the early Oscars ceremonies, French-Canadian actress Norma Shearer won the Best Actress award at the third Academy Awards for the 1930 film, The Divorcee. Canada’s Marie Dressler then won the Best Actress award for her performance in the 1930 film, Min and Bill at the fourth Academy Awards.

4. Harold Russell

Despite being a disabled World War II veteran, Nova Scotia-born Harold Russell featured in the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives, for which he claimed the Best Supporting Actor award. Russell lost both of his hands in combat, and received a second Oscar that night for ''bringing aid and comfort to disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures.''

5. Norman Jewison

Through the years, Jewsion’s films have won 12 Oscars- including Best Picture in 1967 for In the Heat of the Night, and have been nominated for a total of 45. He himself has been honoured as a seven-time Oscar nominee, and in 1999 received the prestigious Irving Thalberg Award at the Oscars.

6. Christopher Plummer

Known for his iconic role as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Plummer won his first Oscar in 2012. He received a standing ovation when he won Best Supporting Actor award in the independent film, Beginners. The then 82-year-old was the oldest person to have ever won an Oscar.

7. Walter Huston

Playing a wounded ship’s captain in Humphrey Bogart’s 1948 film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Toronto-born Walter Huston won the Best Supporting Actor award. His son John won Best Director that year for the same film.

8. Anna Paquin

Making her debut performance at just age 11, Winnipeg-born actress Anna Paquin picked up her Best Supporting Actress award for the 1993 film The Piano. That night Paquin became the second-youngest Oscar winner of all time.

9. Denys Arcand

Arcand is the only French-Canadian director in history to take home an Oscar, along with being nominated three times, all in the Best Foreign Film category. He was nominated for The Decline Of The American Empire in 1986, Jesus Of Montreal in 1989 and won in 2004 for The Barbarian Invasions

10. Paul Haggis

Haggis became the first screenwriter to write two Best Film Oscars back-to-back- Million Dollar Baby and Crash in 2004 and 2005- the latter of which he directed. For Crash, he won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Review: Below Her Mouth

[embed][/embed] If you are looking for a movie that takes a subtle approach to female sexuality, Below Her Mouth is not for you. This film takes an all-or-nothing approach to female empowerment and fully explores the journey of self-discovery.

The film is centered on Jasmine (Natalie Krill), a seemingly straight and engaged female discovering her sexuality with Dallas (Erika Linder), a troubled, detached female incapable of maintaining a relationship. It takes you from heartache to heartbreak and the entire spectrum of human emotion in between.

Below Her Mouth leaves nothing out and nothing to the imagination. It draws the viewer in emotionally with the love between Dallas and Jasmine. The raw emotion displayed in both these actresses is truly amazing. Linder is reminiscent of Kristen Stewart both in her appearance and her edgy, nonchalant acting style.

However, where the indie flick excels in emotional content, it lacks in plot development and character background. Dallas’s past is similar to many we’ve heard before: a mother who disapproves of her career choice and sexuality. Jasmine’s past is that of a suppressed female whose strict parents prevented her from exploring her sexuality fully. These stories have been portrayed many times before, in many different ways, and that lack of foundation takes away from the characters.

When I say the movie leaves nothing out, I am being very literal. This movie is definitely not PG. Below Her Mouth takes gratuitous sex to a whole new level. Sex in film has the ability to deepen character connection and create raw emotion, but Below Her Mouth loses this effect with non-stop full-on sex scenes.

Nevertheless, the heartbreak the movie creates leave you breathless. The actresses and actors have talent when it comes to portraying real emotion with their faces, expressions and body language. You forget that it is all pretend because it looks so genuine.

With an all-female cast (save for a few minor characters), Below Her Mouth makes a statement about females in film. It speaks to the underrepresentation of women in film and production. The movie was also produced by the female director April Mullen, and female executive producers and writers, proving that women have the ability to make their own voices heard in such a powerful way.

Below Her Mouth succeeds on many levels as an indie film and all elements, in the end, work together to create a truly unique experience.


This piece was edited by Luke Elisio, Film Editor of CanCulture.

Movie-Goers Pay Tribute To Late Director, But Not Admission Fees

[embed][/embed] In honour of the late director Rob Stewart, Cineplex Odeon theatres across Canada screened his award-winning documentary Sharkwater on Feb. 25.

Rob Stewart passed away Feb. 3 during a deep dive off the coast of Key Largo, FL. He was 37 years-old. Stewart was a Toronto-born activist, biologist and documentary film-maker.

His 2006 documentary Sharkwater addresses the common misconceptions of sharks and casts a spotlight on the corruptive industry of shark fin fishing.

As a tribute to Stewart, theatres screened Sharkwater in exchange for donations to the World Widlife Fund  (WWF) Canada. Donations will help to continue the work Stewart was doing in the conservation and protection of sharks.

Pat Burnet, a retired social worker, came to the event after hearing about the death of the director and to support WWF. Burnet said the film was impactful and eye-opening.

“I said to myself, ‘is this who we’ve become?’ just thinking about all the horrible things today that we are doing to the planet. But it was also hopeful. I thought he did a brilliant job on the film and getting the message across. I was quite impressed,” said Burnet.

The death of the director has been a shock to many Canadians and Toronto locals in attendance.

Soumen Karmakar is an IT consultant involved in animal activism with various organizations. He heard about the event through Facebook.

“It’s very sad that he died. He brought a lot of publicity to the act of shark killing. It’s just sad because he was a local too. He did a lot for sharks and hopefully it doesn’t end there,” said Karmakar.

Stewart studied at the University of Western Ontario to earn his biology major. After his studies, he worked as an underwater photographer for a number of years before embarking on his journey to create the film, joining Paul Watson and the Sea Shepard Conservation Society. They worked together with governments to prevent the illegal long-line fishing of sharks in places such as the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica.

President of the Peoples Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Kimberly Heys, was in attendance. PAWS is a charity dedicated to helping abandoned and abused animals.

“I met Rob years ago and supported all of his work including the fight for the Bala falls. I think (this event) is incredible and absolutely necessary,” said Heys.

A public funeral was held in Toronto for Stewart on Feb 18. to allow all who loved Stewart a chance to say their final farewells.

Prior to his death, Stewart was working on a sequel to Sharkwater called Sharkwater: Extinction. Currently production is paused, but the crew is still accepting donations on Indiegogo to help finish the documentary and carry on Stewart’s vision and legacy.

The work Stewart has done as an advocate for the conservation of sharks has set the stage for many documentaries to come. Even after his death, Stewart’s work continues to be an inspiration for many.

“It’s world changing,” said Heys, “not just life changing.”

This piece was edited by Luke Elisio, Film Editor of CanCulture.