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A viewing of this film earlier tonight at the Chicago Film Festival was immediately followed, in my case, by a trip to a bathroom stall where I stared blankly at a wall for fifteen minutes amidst a state of pure, and surprisingly prolonged, emotional helplessness. Prior to this evening, Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful and a select handful of others comprised my elite list of unforgettable films that fearlessly tackle the ambivalent, or at least paradoxical, human condition by managing to straddle the inherent injustice and the unfettered hope of perseverance, but Turtles Can Fly now ranks above all others. Despite frequenting this website for years, I have never been previously inspired to comment on anything.
Watching this movie is an incredibly absorbing (and even physical)
experience. It is amazing how the young cast (non-professionals, some
of them actually lived in refugee camps along the Iraq-Turkish border)
deliver such powerful performances. This is also a huge compliment to
the director Bahman Gohbadi who directed the children and teens.
Although the film depicts the nightmare where these children live in,
it has also some comic moments, making it even more believable and real
life. And what's more: the film never gets sentimental.
For me it is one of the best movies I have seen in the last few years. Not uplifting (I really needed a drink after wards) and a film you will not easily forget. On the other hand the story does provide sparkles of hope and the main characters are true survivors. So don't miss it when it plays in a theater near you! "Turtles Can Fly" won the audience award of the International Filmfestival in Rotterdam 2005 (Netherlands).
Incredible performances from a cast mainly comprised of children and
teens. Director/writer Bahman Ghobadi blends day-to-day experiences
common to people everywhere (falling in love, being asked to do
something you don't really know how to do, etc ...) , with some of the
realities of life in a Kurdish village in Iraq before the (most recent)
war, to create an incredibly moving film. It is at once specific to its
time and place, and universal. There is horror and humour, honour and
It's beautifully filmed, too, but the power comes totally out of the stories and the kids, who are in effect playing themselves.
I saw this at a festival, don't know what kind of distribution it will get, but I strongly recommend anyone who gets the chance going to see it.
The trauma of war has been an issue much covered in cinema, but in this
film, we are shown the impact that it has on those who are most
innocent of all the children. The orphaned children are a range of
interesting characters presented to us here, from Satellite, a sharp TV
programmer to Pashow, an armless but still doggedly determined boy. The
supporting children are shown as bright eyed watchers of war, eagerly
awaiting it so that they can try their hand at the missiles, which, at
first sounds amusing, but then escalates into something much more
horrific, and we follow their misadventures through grainy camera-work,
improvised dialogue and flashbacks.
The performances delivered by the children are nothing short of astounding. In the lead, Soran Ebrahim is in parts a mixture of caprice, zest and energy, and it is he who grasps our heart and makes for the first, slightly more light-hearted part of the film. In a completely different role, Avaz Latif is the film's heartbreak, and the one that endures the worst. Her performance is wordless, but she manages to portray all her deepest emotions through a look or gesture. When we delve deeper into the plot to realise exactly how much her character has suffered, it is then that the horror of war kicks in.
Turtles Can Fly is not one for the easily depressed. Truth be told, after watching it, I was still in tears for several minutes, utterly helpless and wishing that something could be done about the constant loss of innocence. Its message is blatant, and though a bleak one, presented in a harsh, disturbing war, makes a welcome change from all the Left, Right and Centre propaganda given to us in the Media. Turtles is a film that speaks for itself; no advertising needed.
I am a movie fan who wades through a lot of alternative films in the
hopes of finding the rare gem that does make it through once every few
years. This film is one of them; I saw it Wednesday and turned around
and saw it again on Saturday. If anything, the second time I felt like
it was over FASTER, which I suppose is another sign of how exquisite
this film is. It is one of the saddest films I have seen, and but it
treats the pain of war in an unblinking way, recognizing that some of
us simply are not equipped to carry that pain, for reasons that cannot
This film contains scenes framed and shot in a way you will never have seen before; the cinematography was creative and fresh. The perspectives of the children involved were haunting and wonderful. To elicit performances from these young actors (the youngest being three years old) is simply genius. I have not seen the director's previous work, but I am looking forward to exploring what I hope will be a fresh new star from a part of the world that the West desperately needs to learn about.
It's an excellent work Ghobadi did. When the movie finished I couldn't
leave the chair for the next 10 minutes. I ran to the toilet to finish
my crying. It reminded me of how little I'm aware what's going on in
the world, even next door to where I was born and my own childhood.It
reminded me that the humanity in me hasn't died yet but needed to be
woken up. It's about a tough life where the kids are in charge of
adults and more mature than them. The movie gives a clear picture of a
bunch on refugee Kurds on their own land. Ghobadi cleverly draws the
picture of a disaster in the Middle East: The Kurds, who has been on
that land for thousand of years but still don't own a flag and their
struggles between Turkey, Iraq,Iran and America.
Any one, who is interested in a bit of information about what's going on over there as well as the other problems in the area should see this movie. A black comedy in some ways when you can't help smiling while crying.
Among the hundred reasons I could list for you to go see this film, the first is the main character Kak "Satellite." He is truly a unique character - the likes of which I've never seen before. It is pretty impressive for a filmmaker to create something new - an on screen person so real, so normal, yet so different than anything we've seen. From the opening moments of the movie you feel you are getting to know a real human being. Satellite and the refugee children whose trust and love he's earned are the stars of this film. I don't think I've ever seen child performers better than some of these kids - if you were blown away by the children in movies like "City of God," this is a another one to look at in terms of performances. Stylistically this film is in a different category - it's a beautifully realistic movie - it's narrative unfolds effortlessly. You never feel you are watching a carefully crafted plot. You feel you are observing events that are happening - and yet it all, in retrospect, is well planned and crafted. The filmmakers and actors deserve much credit for creating a movie with its own touching and realistic voice.
"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.
Turtles Can Fly takes place in a world of hellish bleakness, a land
that seems post-apocalyptic with its barren expanses, its piles of
rusted military machinery, its barbed-wire and tents. It's a world that
has suffered wars before - the wreckage of them is everywhere, spent
shells piled like cord-wood, disabled tanks tossed together like so
many discarded toys - and again it is preparing for conflict; the talk
among the people is all about the great army that's coming to invade,
and sweep everyone away, they believe, in a tide of fire. But this is
no fictional, Mad Max world - the story takes place in a
village/refugee camp on the border between Kurdish Iraq and Turkey, and
the great army the people speak of is the American force come to remove
Saddam Hussein from power. With a kind of superstitious dread the
village elders await news from the outside, buying themselves a
satellite dish so they can watch CNN (but not the forbidden channels,
the "sexy and dancing"). The guy who installs the dish for them is a
figure of local renown nicknamed Satellite. He's about thirteen years
old, yet comports himself as an adult, speaking to the elders on equal
terms with them, arguing with them, refusing to stay and translate the
English-speaking news programs. Besides his dish-installation and
linguistic services, Satellite also has a few other irons in the fire.
His main source of money is land-mines, digging them up and selling
them to dealers, and to help him he employs an army of orphaned kids,
many of whom bear the marks of accidents related to their deadly trade,
missing and mangled limbs.
The film revolves around this anything-but-lonely Satellite, portrayed by Soran Ebrahim as a whirlwind of words and energy, who leads his compatriots through the darkness of a world where family ties have been not just ripped apart but obliterated, where the possibility of death or dismemberment lurks around every rock. Not quite a Messiah - he's too practical for that, and too easily distracted - Satellite takes on a quality reminiscent of Kipling's Kim, the quality of precociousness forced by circumstance to evolve not only into adult competence but the kind of leadership, firm but benevolent, one would be proud to discover in a general. The great thing about Satellite is that director Bahman Ghobadi allows him to be a kid too. Newly arrived in the village are a girl and her two brothers, one of whom has had his arms blown off, the other of whom is a blind infant with a propensity to sleepwalk; Satellite takes a particular shine to the girl, a pretty but somber creature named Agrin, and tries to impress her by diving into a pond for the red fish that allegedly dwell in its silty depths (he doesn't know that the girl, traumatized by Saddam's soldiers, is far beyond being impressed by anything, and is in fact suicidal).
There are no adult characters of any importance in Turtles Can Fly; the only grown-ups are the village elders, a load of cranky, useless worry-worts, and the various shady arms dealers Satellite does business with, who care about nothing but dickering. There's no sense of traditional family structure for the lost children of this borderline world, this barren, unforgiving land with its hidden dangers, its artifacts of calamities past; there's no kind of authority anywhere, except the soldiers on the other side of the border, who the kids like to tease until they fire off their guns (a crippled boy uses his withered leg as a "gun" he pretends to shoot at a border-guard). There's a certain irony to the elders' concern over the coming invasion - they fear some terrible thing is about to befall them, failing to realize that the earth-shattering event has already happened, that the village and the camp are filled with children whose parents have been killed or fled, that their society has already been torn into a million pieces, and that a different order has begun emerging, one represented by Satellite, who speaks not only the native tongue but English too, who knows about the new ways of technology as well as the old, who doesn't dread the coming of the Americans but awaits it with excitement. Satellite and his kids represent the future, one that is fraught with peril but also promises hope, but at the same time there are darker shadings, embodied by the character of Agrin, who wishes to do away with the infant she's been saddled with, and do herself in as well.
Agrin is a mysterious character, a young woman who has been sapped of the will to live, who seems unable to feel anything anymore, who yet retains some strange magnetism, which is not lost on Satellite, who becomes entranced by her, but can never penetrate her impassive surface. Satellite embodies the essential life-force, the thing that survives in spite of everything, that shucks off misery and heartbreak and keeps plugging forward, while Agrin embodies the opposite force, which wishes to succumb to death's whispers, to fall into the fog and disappear forever. The film exists in a murky gray area between life and death, between plucky survivalism and blackest despair. The triumph of Satellite is that he keeps things moving toward tomorrow, not worrying about what kind of tomorrow is to come, but doing it because he has to, because there's no one else to do it. The film ends on an ambivalent note though: the American army has come at last, not to annihilate after all, but as the long-awaited convoy rumbles past, Satellite turns his back on it, and looks to the land instead. America, the film seems to be saying, offers no real salvation for this tortured world and its displaced people. The true salvation must come from within.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Expecting another bleak, minimalist Iranian film I was totally
unprepared for the exuberance and unforgettable power of Kurdish
director Bohman Ghobadi's (Time For Drunken Horses) Turtles Can Fly. A
joint Iran-Iraq venture, the film is the first narrative film to be
shot in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein and is a view of war
from the inside of a Kurdish refugee camp close to the Iraq-Turkish
border just prior to and during the U.S. invasion. There is no overt
political message in the film, yet the hundreds of parent-less children
in the film, many with broken limbs from exploding land mines, tell a
story of war that transcends politics.
In a country where there remains an estimated 50 million land mines, the marketing of unexploded land mines can be a lucrative business. At least, it is a means of survival for a thirteen-year old nicknamed "Satellite" who organizes groups of youngsters to defuse land mines and sell them to arms dealers for food. Assisted by friends Pashow (Saddam Hossein Feysal) and Shirkooh (Ajil Zibari), Satellite (Soran Ebrahim) is a cocky but natural leader who received his nickname from his ability to install satellite dishes in an area where the villagers are hungry for news about the upcoming U.S. invasion. The children live in a world that has no electricity and no schools and where watching television with a satellite dish is a luxury, especially when many of the channels are forbidden. Because satellite knows some English, he is asked to translate news broadcasts for the old men in the village but refuses, saying his job is only to install. Humorously, the elders cringe when he switches the channel to MTV.
A potential threat to Satellite's power is an armless orphan Hengov (Hiresh Feysal Rahman) whose ability to defuse land mines with his teeth lead to a struggle for power between the two. Hengov also has the ability to predict the future and, as their relationship warms, he ends up feeding information that enables Satellite to solidify his power over the children. One telling scene that Hengov predicts is when an American helicopter flies over the children clustered on a hill and drops leaflets saying that Americans will make this country a paradise, a hollow boast as it turned out. Satellite is attracted to Hengov's sister Agrin (Avaz Latif) who cares for Riga (Abdol Rahman Karim), a sightless two-year old boy, later revealed to be the result of a rape by Iraqi soldiers during a skirmish in which her parents were killed and her brother lost his limbs. Agrin is a haunting presence in the film and her ultimate acts of desperation bookend the film.
Turtles Can Fly is a remarkable work of commitment from Ghobadi, an assistant director on Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us. He wants the world to know the plight of millions of stateless Kurds who are at the mercy of politicians who support them when it suits their purposes and oppose them when it does not. Coming on the wake of Kore'eda's Nobody Knows, another film about abandoned children, Ghobadi's film is both a celebration of the innocence of children and a warning about the dangers they face from dictators, fascists, and over-zealous democrats. Far better than any CNN or El Jazeera news account possibly could relate, the story of the war is written in their soulful faces.
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