The Breadwinner (2018)

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From the studios that gifted us the stunning fantasy feature ‘Song of the Sea’, comes this equally stunning film. There’s a smart combination of visual wonder and coming of age material, but it’s also a story not scared to tackle the troubling setting of a Taliban controlled city.

On the streets of Kabul, a young girl called Parvana (Saara Chaudry) helps her father sell wares to passersby. A heated argument causes a furious Taliban member to arrest him and he’s taken to prison. Parvana has a mother, sister and little brother back at home, who are running out of food and because women aren’t allowed to roam free by themselves, she decides to change her identity in the hope of helping her family and finding her dad again.

This story based off a book by Deborah Ellis is such an honest, textured look on a world far away from the luxuries of Western living. Ellis and Anita Doron have mastered a screenplay that wonderfully juggles the main narrative with a magical story within a story. What works so flawlessly for this film, is the way they aren’t afraid to show how brutal the place can be and how chained women are; by the words of men and society in general. When the film illustrates these times of powerful masculinity beating down on innocents, it’s a significant weight that bears down on you watching and really makes you think.

The animation is gorgeous and there’s two styles on show. The prominent one is a standard but immersive, grounded and dusty drawing of Afghanistan’s capital, one that’s filled with squared off imagery, browns, whites and muted yellows with the odd pop of candy colour. Then there’s the tale narrated within the story, this like ‘Song of the Sea’, is mystical and bursting with a vivid fantasy set-up. The characters that walk this world look like paper puppetry and the flat visuals roll sideways like a bewitching sideshow act.

There might be some that think a character stepping stone reflects a Disney heroine, but Parvana cutting off her hair is where the ‘Mulan’ similarities start and end. Women are deemed fine to walk the city only if they’re covered up and led by a man, otherwise they best be inside. This stifling way of things leads the well-read and smart young girl to bravely make a change and step out into a place dominated by men. A developing friendship with a fellow child on the streets of Kabul is great to watch and important too, it’s her escape, they can share an innocence and much needed play-about antics, but what’s so well presented is their maturity. Where they’ve grown up has made them wise beyond their years, so they know how to try and avoid the dangerous environment that is presented throughout the film.

‘The Breadwinner’ is a film I won’t forget anytime soon, women live in a world of rules, no breathing room and incoming Western threats which aren’t shied away from. I am devastated to see that on a $10 million budget, the film hasn’t even broken $500’000, because this is a film that deserves to be seen and applauded for it’s beautiful story of culture, humour, war, loss, oppression and transformation.

9/10

 

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

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Taking inspiration from the book/memoirs of an international journalist, this American comedy drama uses war as a backdrop and gives it, in places, a biting edge but doesn’t seem to dare take a further step in accounting the horrors of Afghanistan during the troops placement there.

Sick of her desk job, Kim Baker (Tina Fey) grabs the opportunity to go on an assignment to Afghanistan. There she meets another journalist; Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) who helps Kim acclimatise to the Kabul life, or the ‘Kabubble’ as they take to calling it. Kim stays longer than expected and begins getting used to the environment with the added help of photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman).

It feels like a long film, which isn’t a great thing to be kicking off with. The 112 minute run-time could have been okay to focus on the grittier side of realities both soldiers and Afghan people faced but it spends too long with Kim and her limited view on the subject. I only began really liking the movie as it got close the end. It takes Kim going back to New York and gaining an understanding of actions she’s taken and her new course of action to help the plot gain any real drive.

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa direct films as a pair and have the slicker ‘Focus’ under their belt, which is a silly comparison but it shows they know how to keep pace and style up whereas this movie lagged in places and is generally quite a pedestrian looking feature. There’s no special treatment that makes the dangerous location of the story feel more worrying. Even some hand held camera may have helped but aside from the in veil head camera Fey wears, the film tries to be realistic and light-hearted but falls short of both.

I liked where they tried going with it, the basing of the real memoirs and what the actual Kim saw and reported is tinged with a comedic twist. As they joke and laugh at Kim when she’s covered up so the men don’t look at her, the attempt at humour feels ill placed. The pairing of Fey and Freeman helps the film though and the disjointed harmony they share is amusing and sentimental. There’s a sure dryness to the script and it works in most places but they should have been more serious too.

Tina Fey is sharp and straight talking as her character. It’s almost a fascinating achievement as she goes a while being dislikable for the decisions and life risking choices she makes to get news scoops. Fey gladly acts seriously which only draws more attention to the fact the movie isn’t as grounded as it should be. Martin Freeman has a convincing Scottish accent and is an equal match to the sharp, dry playing of Fey. Margot Robbie is a vaguely arrogant yet fun-loving bundle of energy, she plays the sneakier side to her reporter character well to make you dislike her, which is definitely a fascinating achievement. I liked the performance from Alfred Molina a lot, it’s a fun look at the strict ways of a government figure and he pulls off that manner well.

It is Fey and Freeman that provide the drama and heart to a film that unfortunately doesn’t take a brave leap in being more than just an American’s viewpoint and journey.

6/10