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Not every animation can tackle cruelty, injustice and institutionalised misogyny and still be a must-see for kids and parents alike, but the latest hand-drawn gem from Cartoon Saloon is no ordinary animation. In the spirit of Studio Ghibli, the Irish studio's spiritual cousins, director Nora Twomey’s film is about the ways we try to cradle each other from the harsher realities of life. This is a day-to-day survival story that stirs the heart and fires the imagination.
It’s set in Kabul, a dusty metropolis that falls eerily silent every evening under Taliban curfew. By day our young heroine, Parvana, is thrust out into this brutal, sexist world as her family’s breadwinner after her dad is hauled off to prison. Under the Taliban’s regime, women can’t go outside without a male chaperone, so she’s forced to disguise herself as a boy just to find food and water for her family. From here, Twomey’s social realist tale slowly unfurls into something bigger as war rumbles on the horizon.
Stitched into its lining is another tale, about a brave young man battling the evil Elephant King, which Parvena tells her baby brother. Playing out in several magical realist instalments, it’s an enchanting escape for us too. This, Twomey’s film suggests, is the power of stories: to take you to places where no one can touch you. The Breadwinner is one such story.
By Phil de Semlyen