When we think of war dramas, we often think of soldiers in uniform, killing on another. Rarely is it discussed that soldiers kill civilians. Even more are the survivors of war discussed, especially if they happen to be children. Coming-of-age for some might mean finally asking out your dream girl, or standing up to your bully, but for some, the transition to independence is a matter of being thrust prematurely into adulthood under the most harrowing circumstances imaginable.
Turtles Can Fly, a joint Iranian-Iraqi picture is a Kurdish film which depicts the lives of a group of orphan children living in a Kurdish refugee camp on the Iraqi-Turkish border. These children’s lives are bleak, and their futures even more so, yet they can still function with an astounding amount of innocence and resilience, as even the hollow present is a welcome respite from their traumatic pasts. 13-year-old Satellite (Soran Ebrahim) is the unofficial but much-revered leader of a rag-tag group of boys whom he casually manipulates into doing the potentially fatal yet vital work of clearing landmines. Satellite is respected for his limited grasp of English and his near-prodigious aptitude for electronics, which he puts to use in his work of installing satellite dishes and antennae in the nearby village. The people there are eager for news about the capture of Saddam Hussein, some hoping that they U.S. will intervene and cut short his reign of terror, others fearing that if the country does intervene, it’ll only be to further exploit the situation. Satellite is convinced of the former, carrying a childishly romanticized view of America as a global hero. His life is far from great, but it is as stable and predictable as he could hope for, until he meets Agrin (Avaz Latif).
Agrin is a morose young girl who travels in the company of her supportive older brother, Hengov (Hiresh Feysal Rahman), a double-amputee with no arms, and a blind toddler named Riga (Abdol Rahman Karim), whom Hengov loves as a brother but Agrin shows vivid, barely contained hatred for. Satellite becomes infatuated with Agrin, doing whatever he can to be of service to her and her brother, but the girl is barely interested in her own life, let alone the idea of allowing him to become a part of it.
Watching the ways, both big and small, that these children navigate their mercurial lives and try to live with the trauma of their pasts is, to put it mildly, quite arduous. Turtles Can Fly was the first Iraqi film following the fall of Hussein and the fresh wounds of what both his soldiers and then the U.S. soldiers left on the landscape of the country and the minds and bodies of its citizens is felt tangibly in every scene. The children are the focal point of this film, and the sincerity of their performance was breathtaking. Turtles Can Fly brings us back to the reality that exists outside the Western world for so many children all over the world, who have no guidance or resources and also no choice but to carry on with lives that are vastly different than they once imagined they would be.
I give this one 4.5 stars.