Turtles Can Fly

Director: Bahman Ghobadi

Iran-Iraq| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. 97 min.

The first feature film to emerge from post-invasion Iraq comes from Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, who made his name a few years back with his debut feature, A Time for Drunken Horses. Like most Kurds, he’s understandably preoccupied with borders and the ravages of war, and Turtles is set on the Iraqi-Turkish border on the eve of the US-led invasion.
Ghobadi’s hero is the infinitely resourceful 13-year-old Soran, known by all as ‘Satellite’ for his skill setting up TV news links. Satellite heads a gang of youngsters, war orphans like himself, who survive by scavenging the detritus of war that litters the scarred and jagged landscape. Soon, he believes, the all-powerful Americans will come to liberate him and his people from the scourge of Saddam. But the invaders, when they arrive, prove rather less than the benevolent, godlike figures he expected. And meanwhile, he becomes obsessed by a strange, newly-arrived trio: a young refugee girl, her mutilated brother and blind infant son.
Turtles brings vividly home the impact of decades of conflict on the maimed, dispossessed Kurdish people. As a metaphor for their plight, the image of an armless boy defusing a mine with his mouth would be hard to beat. But Ghobadi tempers the starkness of his narrative with moments of dark, sardonic humour and elements of haunting mysticism. And, as in Drunken Horses, his compassion for the youngsters he portrays is tempered by admiration for the dogged persistence and self-reliance that makes them seem mature beyond their years. Though his film is angry, it’s never despairing it compels our attention to the suffering of the Kurds, but also celebrates their indomitability.

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