you are looking for yet another opinion on the
propriety of the
war, you won't find it in the first film from
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, "
: 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 Henkov. 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
invasion; all in exchange for accommodations for
orphan Iraqi children.
Henkov (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 Henkov has a peculiar ability
to predict the future. Unlike Satellite's desire
to save all unfortunates, Henkov 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. Henkov'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
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
painfully close with an objective eye, without passing
judgment or placing blame.
can't help but feel the slightest sense of shame,
as if complaining about an undercooked sirloin
when surrounded by starvation. Here in
, the war debate rages ad nauseum, 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
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.