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Turtles Can Fly
(Lakposhtha ham parvaz mikonand) (2004)
Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi (A Time For Drunken Horses) places Turtles Can Fly in
Kurdistan, that part of northern Iraq inhabited by the much-betrayed Kurdish
people--betrayed both by Saddam and, to its infinite discredit, by the United States.
Saddam poison-gassed the people and mined the land of Kurdistan in his megalomaniacal
efforts at ethnic purification and oilfield domination. The U.S. broke promises of support
for the Kurds. The time is just before the United States invasion of Iraq in
2003. Kurdistan, near the unfriendly Turkish border is already a war zone. Venture too
near the fenced border and border guards open fire. The small town seems dominated by a
refugee tent camp and a great many of those refugees are children--often children missing
an arm or a leg as a result of the omnipresent land mines planted like so many seeds
throughout the area.
There's no water or power and there are no schools. Of greatest
concern, it seems, is the lack of television--the village leaders want news of the
impending invasion. Soran, nicknamed "Satellite," is a highly resourceful
thirteen-year-old, nicknamed for his ability to obtain satellite dishes and set up
villages for TV reception. (But not, the elders insist, stations that broadcast forbidden
Soran is also a natural leader. He has organized the other children and
sends them out to the minefields to recover mines which are then sold to a Kurd dealer.
The proceeds are used for the children, including the purchase of gas masks to defend
against the invasion. There is something painfully poignant about seeing a young child
using a gas mask as a toy.
The other leading characters are a family of three--a clairvoyant
brother with no arms, his beautiful and ineffably sad sister (with whom Soran falls in
love), and an infant child whose relationship is defined in a flashback well into the
Children, with the least control over their destinies, are the most
vulnerable, the innocents of wartime. The tragedy of these lives is moving, but, to some
small extent the tragedy is counterbalanced by Ghobadi in showing that somehow humanity
survives in these kids--the ways they manage to cope, the courage they muster to do what
must be done, the ways that they care for one another.
Acted entirely by nonprofessionals and elegantly filmed, Turtles
Can Fly touches on both the best and the worst in human behavior. At once gritty,
primitive and highly sophisticated, it is a highly political film that looks at the
victims, not at the perpetrators. When the Americans do arrive, they are stone-faced
automatons, oblivious to the people around them. The children see them as the enemy to
resist. What else are they to think in a world where their people have been betrayed on
- Arthur Lazere