Political Film Society - Turtles Can Fly


PFS Film Review
Turtles Can Fly (Lakposhtha hâm parvaz mikonand)


 

Turtles Can FlyTurtles Can Fly (Lakposhtha hâm parvaz mikonand), a joint Iranian-Iraqi production directed and written by Bahman Ghobadi, begins just before Gulf War II at a refugee camp in Iraq's Kurdistan. The principal actors are children, and the fictional story represents a slice of the lives of those who survive under desperate circumstances. When the film begins, fifteen-year-old Agrin (played by Avaz Latif) is contemplating suicide, and within a minute or two after establishing the setting she indeed jumps to her death. Both the attempted and actual suicide are fastforwards to the end of the story, however. Flashbacks, which occur much later in the film, serve to illustrate what produced the refugee camps: Saddam Hussein's soldiers not only drove Kurds from their homes but raped Agrin, who gave birth to her now two-year-old son Rega (played by Abdol Rahman Karim). Nevertheless, most of the film centers on Kak, a thirteen-year-old Kurdish boy nicknamed Satellite (played by Soran Ebrahim) because he procures and installs satellite dishes for Kurdish communities. In demand for his unique technical skill and very limited knowledge of English, he not only provides employment for some of the refugee children, who collect defused landmines to exchange for cash or goods. He also serves as the de facto leader of the community in which he lives. Agrin's armless brother Hangao (played by Hiresh Feysal Rahman) is clairvoyant, correctly predicting when a dangerous explosion will go off, when the Americans attack Iraq in 2003, and when the war ends. Satellite then announces the actions that others should take in response to the predictions. Whereas the political context dominates the major events in the film, there is a human tragedy as well. Hangao very much loves Rega, but Agrin does not; she wants to abandon Rega. One day, Agrin ties up Rega in a remote location, but he breaks free and tries to return to the refugee camp. When someone in the camp reports that Rega is in an area with unexploded landmines, Satellite rushes to the rescue but a small landmine goes off, wounding his foot. Although Satellite is soon up and about with crutches to observe American troops passing by, he is unable to prevent Agrin from jumping to her death. Why she does so is perhaps the most tragic part of the film. Returning to the political aspects of the movie, the subtexts are very powerfully stated. The title itself is a metaphor for liberation from death, as the community is living in shells (tents), hoping for a way out while along the border with Turkey; they are boxed in by barbed wire, landmines, and sentry posts. Clearly, the Kurds are portrayed as having every reason to want Saddam Hussein overthrown. Although they are allowed to watch television, several channels are forbidden until the Americans march through, though the response of older Iraqis to the tasteless fare that attracts teenage Americans on MTV is to turn their heads away in disgust. The conquering Americans first leaflet the tented community, using helicopters, to announce honorable intentions and then appear as gallant conquerors, presumably en route to Baghdad or perhaps to the oilfields in Iraq's Kurdistan, but their only apparent contribution to the community is to watch the forbidden channels with those whom they have liberated. That the Kurds are divided between Iran, Iraq, and Turkey is mentioned in a matter-of-fact manner, but the story of human tragedies befalling the Kurds does much to provide legitimacy to the possibility of an independent Kurdistan; the director is an Iranian Kurd. The sight of Americans marching heroically through the refugee village may also send a message to Iranians who increasingly have drawn the conclusion that the current regime is no better than the one under the Shah, but the fact that some landmines are of American origin suggests that profits motivate Washington more than ideals. The sight of an armless boy defusing a landmine with his teeth is perhaps the starkest image presented of a country with millions of landmines and thousands of orphaned children, many of whom have fewer than four limbs. The depiction of all aspects of a refugee camp, where hundreds of children are doing the work to keep the community alive, prompts the Political Film Society to nominate Turtles Can Fly as best film exposé of 2005.  MH

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