Life in Taliban-era Afghanistan doesn’t sound like a particularly promising subject for an animated feature, but The Breadwinner (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Dec. 1) grasps the nettle and takes a stab at it. Thanks to a carefully crafted and sensitively written screenplay, it largely succeeds.
Produced by Angelina Jolie and directed by Irish director Nora Twomey, The Breadwinner tells the story of Parvana (Saara Chaudry), an 11-year old girl whose father has been imprisoned by the Taliban on trumped-up charges. Left without a source of income, her family (mother, sister, and baby brother) will starve to death unless he returns to them soon.
Father does not return, however, and it falls upon Parvana to provide for the family. Chopping off her long hair and donning the clothes of her deceased elder brother (killed by a land mine), she masquerades as a boy and takes up the family business (“anything written, anything read”) in order to put food on the table – all the while, of course, plotting to visit Dad in (and perhaps free him from) the imposing desert fortress of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Written by Anita Doron and novelist Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner balances realistic scenes of life beneath the heel of the Taliban with a series of fantasy sequences inspired by the bedtime stories Parvana tells her little brother. Drawn to look like pages of a storybook brought to life, these are amongst the film’s highlights, contrasting the constricted reality of women’s lives in a patriarchal society with a young girl’s limitless imagination.
One caveat: this is not an appropriate film for tots. There are scenes of torture, murder, and general unpleasantness that – while never graphic, exploitative or tasteless – are likely to give the little ones nightmares. If they’re much under eight, leave ‘em at home.
‘The Nobodies’ — A reflection on the influence of punk
It’s been over 40 years since punk rock first came screaming into existence, and the music still appeals to young people around the world. The latest cinematic reflection of punk’s long-term influence arrives from Colombia in the form of Los Nadie (The Nobodies), a brash drama opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater on Friday (no East Bay play dates are currently scheduled).
Shot in black and white, this 21st-century slice of neo-realism follows a group of disenchanted teens as they negotiate their way through adolescence. There’s screamo bass player Camilo and his two giant rat tails; Manu, the wealthy university student trying to escape her helicopter parents; and Blondie, the 14-year old who keeps getting new tattoos and is completely estranged from her mother and God-fearing aunt.
It’s all here – the bad attitudes, the bad hair, the piercings, the drugs, and the thrash music one associates with the crustpunk subculture. There are also a surprising number of circus tricks (largely involving unicycles and juggling pins), which the kids use to fundraise at traffic lights.
The first feature from writer-director Juan Sebastian Mesa, The Nobodies is probably best described as a Larry Clark movie without the creepy pedophilic edge. If that makes it sound too unpleasant, perhaps imagine it as a South American take on James Merendino’s outstanding and sorely under-appreciated 1998 feature SLC Punk!.