Movie Review: Turtles Can Fly

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
The 1974 documentary "Hearts & Minds" released at the end of the Vietnam War is credited for humanizing the Vietnamese people for Americans. Before that the Vietnamese people were anonymous strangers who lived in a strange faraway land. "Hearts & Minds" director Peter Davis says that our news show us what is behind the guns, but seldom what's on the other side of the guns. "Hearts & Minds" did that for the Vietnam War, and now the drama "Turtles Can Fly" from 36 year-old Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi shows us what's on the other end of the guns in Kurdish Iraq.

Just as in Ghobadi's first film "A Time for Drunken Horses," "Turtles Can Fly" gets to the heart of the experiences of marginalized children. The film opens right before the American invasion and ends right after it starts. Landmines that have been killing and maiming have been a part of Kurdish life for generations. American and Western European countries manufacture the landmines that Saddam Hussein used there. In an interview Ghobadi said that when he visited Iraq he saw the horrors that children suffer as the victims of war and wanted to capture that in his film.

"Turtles Can Fly" takes us into the world of parentless refugee children who have suffered for years under Saddam's rule, U.N. Sanctions, and now the impending American invasion. These children have to hustle to eat, worry about defending themselves with weapons, find out how to acquire masks to protect them from chemical attacks, and escape exploding mines.

The story focuses mainly on two children; "Satellite" is the scrappy, slightly awkward but deeply empathic ruler of the children. As we watch him navigate his daily challenges and make impossible decisions, the poignancy of his character sears into your heart. Agrin, the newly orphaned girl who has already endured too much is in charge of caring for her maimed brother and a baby. We see the children's struggles and the state of their lives as the casualties of war -- and decisions made by Saddam Hussein and George Bush. In their small world they try to make sense of the fate they have been dealt.

Satellite oversees children who clear mines and negotiates at the market to get the best deal for the mines. He is the only one who knows how to install satellite dishes for the anxious refugees starved for news about the impending American invasion, and their destiny. Satellite is a smart self-appointed boss and natural leader who finds out that Agrin's brother, maimed by landmines, has a gift for seeing into the future. He uses the boy's gift to protect the community. Agrin is besieged with grief over her losses and the trauma she has endured. We enter her world and can only imagine what it must be like to be so young and have to shoulder her burden.

When we hear in the American news that over 125 thousand people have been killed in the Iraq war -- and even more have been maimed -- our minds naturally protect us from the reality of what that means. We can't possibly imagine the well of sorrow these numbers represent. "Turtles Can Fly" hones in on the stories of the children in a small refugee community and shows us a little about what war really means to the civilians who are actually there. We care about the characters in the film. If a good film is supposed to transport you to a different place and show you another way of seeing the world, "Turtles Can Fly" has succeeded.

In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.

Movie Magazine International
More Information:
Turtles Can Fly
Director: Bahman Ghobadi; (2004) Iran, France; Language: Kurdish; 98 minutes