This movie is currently streaming on Netflix. It is a deeply, culturally significant movie. I actually watched it because it was “trending” on Netflix (along with Goodfellas and The Godfather trilogy).
The Breadwinner tells the story of a young Afghan girl and her family living in Kabul, Afghanistan during the Taliban control (so in the 90’s decade era); after the Soviet-Afghanistan War, and leading up to 2001’s “war on terror”… it does differ from the book. (The book was published in 2000.) Some of the plot and characters from the book are also different from the film as well.
I’ve never read the book, so I’m just reviewing the film — it is one of the BEST featured films I’ve ever seen, especially for an animation. It’s up there with my list of favorite movies (I will get to that list one of these days, ha!).
Parvana is a pre-teen girl who goes out with her beloved father, Nurullah, on the market streets of Kabul to sell their valuables and earn money by reading/writing for illiterate Afghans. Her father lost the lower part of one of his leg in a previous war and walks with a wooden walking stick.
Her father was a teacher, and so his daughters and wife are educated. Her mother, Fattema, was a writer. Her father tells her about the war with the Soviets, the coup d’état of the former government, the civil war in Afghanistan, and the Taliban coming to power — but says he remembers a time when there was peace.
Nurullah tells Parvana creative stories about their people that are banned by the Taliban. A sudden commotion caused by a stray dog brings the attention of Parvana and Nurullah to the disillusioned fanatic, Idrees, who was a former pupil of Nurullah.
Idrees is accompanied by an older man named Razaq, who also has a more tamed and reasonable personality. Feeling he has been slighted by Nurullah, Idrees brings the Taliban to arrest Nurullah while the family is eating their dinner.
The family is left without a male in the household, except for the toddler son, Zaki, who is too young to be of any use to the family. The next day, Fattema and Parvana tried to go to the prison to get Nurullah released. The eldest daughter, Soraya, stays home to watch Zaki. Taliban law prohibits a woman outside her home without a male relative accompanying her, so it’s very dangerous for both Fattema and Parvana to be seen unaccompanied outside.
Fattema is in a full burqa outside, while Parvana only wears a hijab because she is still a child. A Taliban stops them while they are walking on their way to the prison; Fattema gets beaten in the street by the Taliban for being unaccompanied, and told that her efforts to free her husband are useless.
Parvana helps her severely beaten mother home. After realizing the reality that they cannot survive without a male presence, Fattema has Soraya write a letter to a distant cousin in Mazar-e-Sharif asking for help. Desperate for food and money, Parvana cuts off her long hair and wears her dead older brother, Sulayman’s, clothes.
She is finally able to go to the street market and store to buy food for her family. On the streets she sees an old schoolmate, Shauzia, who is also pretending to be a boy; but unlike Parvana, who has a loving father, Shauzia speaks with resentment about her father. She informs Parvana that she hides whatever money she can from her father, in the hopes of moving to a coastal town one day.
Shauzia and Parvana work laborious jobs for money, on top of Parvana selling her family items on the street. One day, while trying to solicit her service for reading/writing on the market streets, Razaq asks Parvana to read a letter to him. He believes her when she tells him she is the nephew of Nurullah. The letter says that his wife, Hala, has been killed by a landmine while on her way to a wedding. Sad and shocked, Razaq quickly gets up and leaves.
Parvana tells a story to Zaki and Shauzia about a boy on his way to defeat a monster elephant who has stolen the villagers’ planting seeds; the stories calm Zaki and Shauzia. She names the boy after her dead brother, Sulayman. (The movie interchanges between the present setting and Parvana’s stories.)
While the girls are working at a laborious job one day, Parvana sees Idrees, who also recognizes her. Fearing they’d be caught, Parvana hits him in the face with a brick so that they can escape, and they hide in a narrow cave opening. They are saved when the Taliban are ordered away, apparently a new war has started (presumably the US-led coalition “war on terror”).
Parvana had also began to teach Razaq how to write. After feeling she can trust Razaq, she tells him that Nurullah has been arrested. He advises her to go to the prison on Wednesdays and ask for his cousin, who will help if he can.
When she returns home, Fattema informs her that the cousin in Mazar-e-Sharif has written back and has agreed to help in exchange for Soraya’s marriage, and that they will be leaving. Parvana tells her mother that she will go with them after she goes to the prison on Wednesday, to at least tell her father where they’ll be. Her mother reluctantly accepts her daughter’s determination.
Parvana goes to tell Shauzia that they are leaving soon for Mazar-e-Sharif. Shauzia is initially resentful, and tells Parvana to be realistic; that their lives won’t be any better in another place with the cousin, at least not after Soraya’s wedding. Parvana tells her to come with them, but Shauzia says that her father would find her and kill her if she ran away. She gives Parvana the money she’s been saving so that Parvana would have enough to bribe the prison guards to see her father. They say a heartfelt goodbye to each other.
While Parvana is traveling to the prison, a man sent by Fattema’s distant cousin arrives early to take them to Mazar-e-Sharif. Fattema says they have to wait for Parvana and refuses to go, but the man informs them that the war has started and they must leave immediately. He snatches Zaki, and forces Soraya and Fattema into the car and drives off with them.
Unaware of what’s happened with her family and the new war, Parvana makes her way to the prison where she sees Razaq. He informs her that the war has started and she must leave. She finally confesses that she is really Parvana, the daughter of Nurullah. Razaq agrees to help her. He tells her to get out of there as fast as she can if he doesn’t come out by sunset.
The car that Fattema and her children are in breaks down, and Fattema starts a fire under pretense. She tells Soraya to take Zaki and run away as fast as she can; with a lit stick, she stands up to the man and tells him that they are not going with him. The man finally backs down and drives away, as (presumably American) aircrafts start bombing Kabul.
While the military aircrafts are bombing the region, Razaq manages to rescue Nurullah at his own personal risk (having been shot in the shoulder). He puts Nurullah on a wooden wheelbarrow slab, and Parvana wheels her father heading for home. Fattema catches up to Soraya and Zaki who are also heading home; the movie ends with their fates unknown.
I watched this movie with Ava. She had a lot of questions, and I answered as informed as possible. As a social studies teacher, I do not want to be one of those batty idealists who thinks Jesus is in the White House because there’s a white guy there… and because I’m not a racist, ha!
I told her as simply as I could about religious fanatical zealots; about Afghanistan and Islam culture, war, why people do the things they do, etc. I mean, we’re a “Catholic family”, and even I think that the Eucharist is some ritualistic voodoo chanting nonsense — you’re supposedly drinking and eating the “blood and body of Jesus Christ”, tell me that doesn’t sound like some sort of shamanism to you! (It’s like drawing a biblical Middle Eastern guy in all those Renaissance paintings as a white man!)
But I digress — this is a great movie!