Turtles Can Fly (2004)

“We will make this country a paradise.”

Children are the most vulnerable victims of war, and the Kurdish film Turtles Can Fly  (Lakposhtha Parvaz Mikonand) illustrates this perfectly. In the film, a remote Kurdish village in Northern Iraq awaits news of the U.S. invasion. Completely cut off from any media source, the village elders arrange for the purchase of a satellite dish so they can watch news of the invasion on a tiny salvaged television.

The story focuses on the village’s raggle-taggle band of orphans who live outside of the village in tents and partially demolished military equipment. The tenacious orphan Satellite (Soran Ebrahim) commands a certain respect from the village elders for his technological skills, and the other orphans accept Satellite as their leader. One day three new children drift into the village–Hengov (Hiresh Feysal Rahman) an armless boy, his sister, Agrin (Avaz Latif) and a small blind toddler. Arvin’s disturbed memories explain her emotional vacuity, and Hengov’s protective instincts and insistence on establishing a family structure are tragic.

Director Bahman Ghobadi clearly loves children, and this is illustrated by showing the optimism and joy that some of the children still manage to possess–in spite of all the terrible things they continue to experience. The orphans in the film have lost everything–their homes, their families, and in some cases–parts of their bodies. In a harsh terrain with no social support, the orphans drift–some may survive to adulthood, and some may not. Even though Iraq isn’t at war when the film begins, all these children know is war, death, and deprivation. Their shelter is a graveyard of military equipment, and even their food is purchased by retrieving and selling mines.

Turtles Can Fly is neither specifically pro or con the Iraq war–the characters, after all, have suffered great hardships under Saddam Hussein’s rule, but somehow one feels that another war–rather than liberate these young victims–will only result in even more deprivations and violence. Clearly Hengov doesn’t discriminate between sides when remembering the destruction planes, soldiers and bombs bring. The result is the same no matter who does the killing. Ultimately, this beautiful, poetic film delivers a strong anti-war message through the daily lives of these children. They ask so for so little–a family, food, shelter, and love–and they are destined to receive none of these things. This is a splendid, unforgettable film–in Kurdish with English subtitles.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Turtles Can Fly (2004)

  1. The trauma of war has been an issue much covered in cinema, but in this film, we are shown the impact that it has on those who are most innocent of all- the children. War from an innocent perspective; yet not a dark comedy- this film has a lot to offer. This also reveals another aspect of this film- the adults in the film are shown as the scared lot. They are always shown hiding, squeaking in their houses; following orthodox practices. It leaves you in a land where war can be smelled, where destruction is not a new addition to the inhabitant’s menu. The adults being dormant, while the kids are enthusiastic is totally justified.

    Prior to this, Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful and a selected handful unforgettable films had also fearlessly covered this nightmarish, inhumane aspect of war. This film hits hard enough to be called a masterpiece. After these 1 hr 37 minutes of brainwash, I stared blankly at the screen for fifteen minutes, amidst a state of pure, and surprisingly prolonged, emotional helplessness. I felt like loosing something… I felt the pain of lost innocence.

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