In Cornelius Murphy’s short film, Breadwinner, an unseen narrator (Sherman Alpert) reflects back on his upbringing with his free spirit father, Douglas (Adam Theron-Lee Rensch). As we learn, Douglas likes his writing and other artistic endeavors, and doesn’t much care for money or other adult responsibilities. Out of necessity, and eventually out of spite and resentment, his son, Leonard, grows up to be the exact opposite, a money-making everyman with a different definition of what it means to be a man, who looks down, as he reflects back, on his father.
Which can make for an unpleasant experience, honestly. At times, the disrespect and disdain in the narration is palpable, and while Douglas could’ve been a more responsible adult, you don’t get the impression he was ever abusive to his son. Only that, in Leonard’s rebellion, he went to an opposite extreme.
But that’s the tale, and just because it feels unpleasant doesn’t mean the short film is a bad one. Obviously it is effective in evoking an emotional response, one way or another. It’s also well-shot, utilizing different composition and mediums to give the impression of time, and technology, changing.
Where it seems to do itself a slight disservice, however, is in its casting. While there are certainly people out there who are fathers and still appear to be extremely young (or are young), Douglas seems to always look like he’s in his twenties. Since our narrator is never seen, as we instead view things through his POV, we seldom have a visual reference of Douglas as a father to a small, or growing, child.
Instead, it looks like a young guy being a young guy, and there’s a disconnect because, as wrongheaded as it may seem, our minds have an idea of what a father should look like. Douglas doesn’t look like it. Then again, that could be by design; in his son’s eyes, he never behaves as a father either, so why should he appear as one at any point. Perhaps the unconventional casting against type is to evoke that same impression in the audience. Or, as is explained early on, maybe he just was as he appears.
And if that’s the case, I understand. For me, it didn’t entirely work that way; the disconnect between a father figure and what was presented was such that it was distracting instead of enlightening, but to each their own. If the choice was explained for any of the reasons above, it’d be easy to convince me.
Overall, Breadwinner is a unique portrait of family dysfunction that plays against type and traditions. It’s not always easy to hear such anger directed as someone that doesn’t seem, as presented, to deserve the ire, but that doesn’t make it unrealistic. Tragic in its way, depending on your own perspective.
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