"Turtles Can Fly" Review
By Donnie Saxton Beyond Hollywood
If you are looking for yet another opinion on the propriety of the Iraq war, you won't find it in the first film from Iraq since the war began. "Turtles Can Fly," the gritty and compelling movie by director Bahman Ghobadi seeks not to lecture but to educate viewers about the realities of a place that sparks so much division. Instead of taking a political side, Ghobadi prefers the human side and uses the amazing story of a few individuals as a porthole to view a larger, immensely more complex picture. As he educates, Ghobadi also illuminates a much forgotten but immutable truth: the greatest suffering of any international crisis is always born by the children.
The film begins ominously with the words, "Kurdistan , Iraq : Turkish Border - a few weeks before the U.S. Iraq war." Thus, immediately we are thrust into a film chronicling a piece of ongoing history, one that continues to evolve daily. The plot focuses mainly on two orphan boys in their early teens, Satellite (a name earned because of his technical abilities) and Hengov. Both are equally gifted but in very different ways.
Satellite (Soran Ebrahim) is a public interest entrepreneur who works tirelessly at curbing the misfortune of other orphan children. An intellectual and political prodigy, Satellite organizes the children of a poverty stricken village into groups to clear mine fields. He then uses precocious diplomatic skills to manipulate UN reimbursements given in exchange for land mines and essentially creates a network of employment for the children. Satellite also serves as technical advisor to incompetent village elders by hooking up communications so they can receive information about the pending U.S. invasion; all in exchange for accommodations for orphan Iraqi children.
Hengov (Hiresh Rahman), on the other hand, is a subdued outsider who lost his arms in a mine explosion. He does not participate in Satellite's ad hoc programs, but the enterprising Satellite seeks him out anyway because Hengov has a peculiar ability to predict the future. Unlike Satellite's desire to save all unfortunates, Hengov only assumes responsibility for two orphans: his sister (Avaz Latif) and her infant son, the product of a rape at the hands of Saddam's soldiers. Hengov's attempts to balance his sister's oscillating emotions toward her son forms a rift that ultimately leads to a tragedy within a tragedy, underscoring the racial complexity that drives much of the historical turmoil specific to the region.
Ironically, the fictional backdrop of "Turtles Can Fly" forces the viewer to accept a reality that one can never prepare for and most people prefer to ignore altogether. The child characters, many of whom have lost limbs, are folded seamlessly into a story that is heartbreaking and poetic. Ghobadi brings the suffering in Iraq painfully close with an objective eye, without passing judgment or placing blame.
One can't help but feel the slightest sense of shame, as if complaining about an undercooked sirloin when surrounded by starvation. Here in America , the war debate rages ad nauseam, and voices like the ones featured in "Turtles Can Fly" are drowned out by the intense polarization of the issue. As a result, stories of normal Iraqis fail to penetrate the collective conscious, because if they did, a more collaborative discussion might ensue.
Instead, we have what we have, and reports of the death and the dying flood over us through the mainstream media with such monotony that they have long begun to fade into abstractions. "Turtles Can Fly" takes those abstractions, ads flesh, and dispels with the notion that the human spirit has a limitless capacity to absorb heartache.
Originally Published October 7, 2005
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