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In an Iraq/Turkey Kurdish border village, the villagers are keen to get a satellite dish installed so they can tune in to news reports about the impending US invasion of Iraq. The 13 year old boy who bosses the village children for anti-personnel mine collecting duties, the young Master Fixit of the area, sets about getting this task done, and is nicknamed Satellite (Soran Ebrahim). In the process, Agrin (Avaz Latif) a young girl from another village who arrives with her armless brother Hengov (Hiresh Feysal Rahman), and her blind little son, catches his eye. Hengov, it turns out, has a gift for predicting future events, more useful even than the satellite dish. Satellite attempts to befriend this strange, damaged and unhappy trio, without success.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses) works best on pain and suffering; he's passionate about filming his people (Kurds) from the inside of the society, with the focus on their miseries. Turtles Can Fly is motivated by his anti-war and pro-children sentiments. No wonder than that Hengov (Hiresh Feysal Rahman), a teenager who has lost both his arms in one of thousands of similar landmine accidents, is a central character in the film, a sombre presence whose simple prophetic gift makes the satellite dish the villagers use for news of impending US invasion of Iraq somewhat redundant. To his credit, Gohobadi doesn't overdo this.

Nor can it be said that this film is simplistically anti THAT specific war; Ghobadi says that he was moved to make this film, in part, when distressed by how children are casualties of wars and apparently ignored.

The teenage Hengov, stands as a symbol of both the destructive power of war and the indestructibility of the human spirit. His lack of self pity, his ability to overcome the physical limitations of his condition are powerful messages, but they don't hide the fact that he is deeply scarred by his life experience. His gift is more a curse than recompense; his life is reduced to the essentials of survival, even more so perhaps than his fellow countrymen.

But for us, it is his sister Agrin (Avaz Latif), and her blind 3-year old son who command the deepest empathy, the greatest heartbreak. Traumatised and alone in the world, the now 15 or 16 year old is suicidal in the aftermath of her ordeals, as the burden of caring for her son intensifies. A gang rape victim when she must have been no more than 12 or 13, she resents her baby, as well as the whole world, it seems. (The film isn't explicit about the rapists, but in flashback they seem to be Iraqi soldiers.) It is Hengov who nurtures the tragic little kid with his undulating, unseeing dark eyes, as if it were his.

In contrast to the darkness of these characters, the energetic, effervescent and entrepreneurial Satellite (Soran Ebrahid), is a positive force whose singular pragmatism is balanced by a sensitive soul.

The level of performance Ghobadi elicits from the non-pro cast is extraordinary; in fact the line between real life and performance is so thin as to be invisible. What strikes me as cinematically special about Turtles Can Fly is its structure: unlike a Western film that might be structured with recognisable emotional signposts and plot points, Ghobadi tells his story in such a way that it is up to the audience to pick out the key elements. And there is much to pick from.


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