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On the Kurdish refugee camp on the Iraqi-Turkish border, the boy Satellite is the leader of the kids. He commands them to clear and collect American undetonated minefields in the fields to sell them in the street market and he installs antennae for the villagers. He goes with the local leader to buy a parabolic antenna to learn the news about the eminent American invasion but nobody speaks English and Satellite that knows a couple of words is assigned to translate the Fox News. When the orphans Agrin and her armless brother Hengov and the blind toddler Riga come from Halabcheh to the camp, Satellite falls in an unrequited love for Egrin. But the girl is traumatized by a cruel raid in her home, when her parents were murdered and she was raped. She wants to leave Riga behind and travel with her brother Hengov to another place, but he does not agree with her intention. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"Turtles Can Fly," the haunting new film from Iranian writer/director Bahman Ghobadi ("A Time for Drunken Horses"), begins with an arrestingly beautiful image: A young woman (Avaz Latif), resolute in her manner, stands barefoot on a rocky ledge, contemplating a leap that will surely end in death. The landscape is gray and forbidding; the light is cold; the tone ominous. Then the camera comes closer to the actress' face, wreathed in tangled brown hair, and we realize, with a start, that she is a child.
Ghobadi's film is a story of wounded children, a devastating reminder of the costs of war. It's set in an Iraqi village near the Turkish border, in early 2003, as the villagers await news of an American invasion. As they try to set up a satellite dish, a key player emerges: a boy known as Satellite (Soran Ebrahim), with Coke-bottle glasses and a pushy, ever-yelling confidence. He's the expert in this operation, in the way that kids worldwide seem to know more about technology than their elders, and he's also the ringleader of the village children, who follow him like loyal acolytes.
Satellite, in his bulldozer way, soon catches the eye of Agrin, the girl we saw in the opening scene, and he's dazzled by her, gazing at her with Mooney eyes. "I've been looking for a girl like you," he tells her. She, orphaned by war, takes care of her two brothers one is armless, maimed by a land mine; the other is a toddler and ignores Satellite. There's an air of quiet tragedy about her, the reason for which is explained late in the film, in a scene so wrenching it's almost unbearable to watch.
The performances in the film all by nonprofessional actors vary in quality. Ebrahim has some touching moments as Satellite but rarely varies his voice from a shout; it suits the character's almost corporate like personality but eventually becomes wearying. But Latif, as the tragic Agrin, makes the most of her few lines; she's calm, astonishingly beautiful and skilled enough to let us see the heavy weight on this grown-up child's shoulders.
Ghobadi and director of photography Shahriar Assadi linger on the vast landscape, with its bleak fields and desolate, branch less trees, and create some beautiful effects with shadows. (In one shot, the hills glow under a night-blue sky as the tiny shadow figure of a child appears between them.) And the director's eye for heartbreaking detail is keen. In this harsh, desperate world, a child cries, with no hands to wipe away his tears. Others stare at the camera, looking far older than they should, as if seeking the end of a nightmare.
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