Turtles Can Fly (Lakposhtha hm parvaz mikonand) is the third feature film from award-winning filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi. And much like his earlier two films, A Time for Drunken Horses (2000) and Marooned in Iraq (2002), Ghobadi has set it near the Iraqi border. Here, more specifically, its Northern Iraq from where the Kurd population spreads out inside the border of Turkey, another country (besides the likes of Iran, Syria, and Armenia -- who also hold Kurd population along their borders), which has failed to acknowledge the region commonly referred to as "Kurdistan." But this film isnt about borders; it, in fact, transcends any that exist, whether geographical or political, and thats one of its major triumphs.
Our protagonist is a young 13-year-old boy (Soran Ebrahim) whos nicknamed "Satellite" due to his ability to install TV satellite dishes. Hes also the leader of a horde of orphan kids living in makeshift refugee camps as they depend on him for various "odd" jobs, including plucking mines from minefields, something that has taken many lives and limbs. Their territory is partly invaded by an armless boy who can see the future (an obvious and rightful attempt by Ghobadi to undermine what villagers got through news channels after upgrading -- the one they flipped on was Fox!), but Satellite eventually tries to befriend him because of his hauntingly beautiful young sister (Avaz Latif) whos usually seen carrying a child, a relationship that gets defined in a disturbing flashback.
Turtles Can Fly is strikingly shot. The stunningly poetic visuals remind one of mid-period Kiarostami, perhaps not surprising since Ghobadi, a Tehran based Kurd, was an assistant of the master on The Wind Will Carry Us (1999). But Ghobidis landscape is almost mythical, perpetually shrouded in fog and mist, a potent metaphor or perhaps a pungent pun. Unfortunately, the films narrative also seems lost at times in trying to impede the impending tragedy, which doesnt hit as hard partially because this isnt the first film that has dealt with kids in precarious situations. However, it was the first to be shot in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein (a giant arm from one of his numerous statues gets bought by a kid for a few mines!), obviously a time-period which coincided with the arrival of American troops. But Ghobadi seems ambivalent, and rightfully so: the problems of his people didnt start with Saddam and theyre not going to end with the Americans. And the last thing to do now is to start the blame game because that will only delay the support the Kurds rightfully deserve.
*The film had its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2004. IFC Films released it theatrically in the U.S. earlier this year. It is now available on DVD.