The Breadwinner

For the final week of the library’s Fall Film Challenge, I received three DVD suggestions. The Breadwinner was the first of these that I watched. Set in Afghanistan prior to the US bombing and war, The Breadwinner tells of a country ruled by the Taliban. Here a young girl goes to the market daily with her loving, progressive father who’s taught her to read.

We see the Taliban’s violence through the harassment Parvana, an 11 year old, girl and her learned father receive when she’s with him in the market place. Females are to be inside, hidden and cowering, but Parvana’s father believes in educating his daughters.

When the father’s unjustly arrested, he’s incarcerated with a trial or even a charge, Parvana, her mother, older sister and baby brother are unable to earn a living. There’s no one in the home who can legally leave the house to earn a living. Once their food is gone, it’s clear to Parvana that she must act. She chops off her hair and dresses as a boy to put food on the table.

Outside she must blend in and find work. She sees the Taliban beating women in their burqas who’ve left their homes. They terrorize men who don’t act as they dictate. Parvana is able to take her place in the market undetected, but every day is a risk. At home her mother sees the family’s only hope in marrying off her oldest daughter in an arranged marriage to a distant cousin. This is typical in Afghanistan.

Parvana lucks out when she discovers a former classmate, who’s adopted the same strategy and dresses as a boy to save her family and her life. The two cleverly find work, make money and evade the Taliban’s brutality, for the most part.

The film interweaves an Afghan folk tale of a clever, plucky hero with Parvana’s story to accentuate the film’s themes thus giving the animators another way to show off their mastery. The film was made by the same team that gave us The Secret of Kells.

The Breadwinner reminded me of the tragedy of life in Afghanistan, which I admit I’ve forgotten. The animators capture the war-torn, bleak Afghani landscape. Though it’s an animated film, it’s not for children under 13. There are scenes of parents getting beaten by the Taliban, the imprisonment of a father, depiction of people missing limbs so it’s authentic and may be hard for young children to take in.

My only quibble with The Breadwinner is that I found the ending abrupt and left some questions in my mind. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for this recommendation and think it’s well worth watching.

The Cave of the Yellow Dog

Filmed in Mongolia, The Cave of the Yellow Dog is a simple and powerful film that captured my heart. The actors aren’t professional. They’re real nomads who live in a yurt and live off the land.

The oldest daughter Nansal, age 6 or 7, returns from the city where she’s going to school and while exploring finds a black and white dog that she brings home. Her mother allows her this pet, but her father later objects. He’s worried that since the dog was living in a cave, he may have lived with wolves and could attract them. Namsal does everything in her power to keep this dog, even though wolves have been a threat to the flock, which is the family’s source of life.

The film was a marvelous look at a culture that I know little about. It’s colorful and compelling. I was amazed at how much autonomy and responsibility these young children had to look after each other and after the herd.

Many thanks to the librarians at Skokie Public Library for challenging me to watch The Cave of the Yellow Dog. I think you’d like this family-friendly film too.

If you like The Cave of the Yellow Dog, you’ll probably also like director’s first film The Story of the Weeping Camel.¬†

Wadjda

As I mentioned when I wrote about the must-see Loving Vincent, this week I asked for the Fall Film Challenge to suggest some “groundbreaking” films and received Wadjda, which depending on whom you talk to is the first or second Saudi movie to be made. In Saudi Arabia there are no movie theaters since films are prohibited (like a lot of other things).

Directed by a woman, Haifaa Al Mansour, who had to direct from a van via walkie talkie because passers by would make trouble for a woman giving orders to a man, Wadjda showed me what life is like for women and girls in the Kingdom.

Wadjda is an 11 year old girl who dreams of riding a bike, although it’s taboo because there’s a fear that a bike accident would affect a female’s virginity. That’s what they believe. Really. Nonetheless Wadjda is determined.

She’s a spunky girl, who though not defiant, just spirited gets in trouble at school a lot. The school is run by a principal who gets after any girl who isn’t covered enough, reads magazines or wears nail polish. Even being in the vicinity of such behaviors can get you scrutinized.

Wadjda’s closest friend is a cute boy, who’s about a head shorter than her. They strike a deal that if she lets him hang election materials for his uncle from her rooftop, she can ride his bike up there out of sight.

Wadjda gave me a look inside a Saudi family. Wadjda is an only child and while loved, something of a disappointment since she’s female. While her mother loves her father, who’s rarely home, she fears that the father will get a second wife to get a male heir.

There were no feminists other than possibly Wadjda in the film. Even the mother who wears jeans at home and works, is constantly scolding Wadjda for small “unload-like” infractions. Women were often looking at each other to judge any impropriety. The minute rules that must be followed to be considered a pure woman are overwhelming.

I was surprised that this oil rich country had such a shoddy middle class neighborhood. There were no sidewalks, new cars, or modern classrooms. Living conditions were on par with Indonesia. (Saudi Arabia’s GDP per capita is $20,890 vs. $3,817 for Indonesia). I wonder why the public roads and schools were awful in the capital city.

I rooted for Wadjda in her quest for a bike and would love to see this girl in other films. The plot took some unexpected turns for me. I’d say this is a groundbreaking film that anyone interested in other cultures should watch.

Here’s a reaction by a Saudi blogger to the film.