Turtles Can Fly

Written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi
Screening at FACT 6th - 9th March

Reviewed by Kenn Taylor

Two weeks before the beginning of the of the Iraq-American war in a small Kurdish village on the edge of the Iraq/Turkey border we see a young girl perched on the edge of a cliff. So begins the first feature film to emerge out of Iraq in the wake of the toppling of Saddam. An Iran-Iraq co-production it focuses on the lives led by the children of Iraq under Hussein’s regime in a country so scarred by conflict.

The gang of children in the village are led by a boy nicknamed ‘Satellite’ due to his way with communications equipment - getting TV signals in a area on the verge of war when channels are jammed by Saddam makes him a useful if unpopular member of the village. Satellite also leads the children in the dangerous-but-profitable business of disarming and selling the mines which litter the landscape and whose terrible results can be seen on many of the children acting in the film.

He lives a happy Artful Dodger-like existence that changes forever when a quiet boy, who has lost his arms, his sister and a small child enter the village. The boy Hengov makes predictions of the forthcoming war that make the news obsolete, but each prediction is followed by more terrible tragedy in the lives of these damaged children.

Shot in the barren but expansive Iraq landscape the film shows a small community dealing with life in a country on the verge of war. Life always goes on children as with missing limbs run about, toddlers play by the razor wire while Satellite pursues profit and his new love.

The performances from the children are excellent, supplying both the humour - which gives some necessary relief - and the more harrowing roles with dignity. It is also well put together despite being obviously made on quite a tight budget

However, Turtles Can Fly is not just a document of a deprived country on the verge of war but a complex and at times very dark film in it’s own right, looking at the psychology of children pushed to the edge. As they either try to maintain innocence or deal head-on with the grim realities of there existence, ultimately this is a film about survival in a harsh environment.