This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Turtles Can Fly: Review


There are some movies which everyone praises to the skies, and which leave me cold. This is...not quite one of them.

The time: 2003, just before Operation Iraq Loot, or whatever the Bushies privately called their invasion of Mesopotamia. The place: a squalid Kurdish village turned refugee camp just inside the border with Turkey, surrounded by a wasteland of shattered military vehicles. The “man”: a thirteen-year-old called Satellite, who the people of the refugee camp depend on to bring them news of the approaching war by getting them a satellite dish, and translating the English news channels as best he can.

Meanwhile, Satellite has plenty of other irons in the fire. He’s the leader of the children of the village and the refugee camp, and uses them to dig out landmines from the surrounding fields, which he then sells to an arms dealer, who, he knows perfectly well, re-sells them at a thousand per cent profit. He also mines scrap metal from the wrecked vehicles, including used shells and so on, and is all told far too busy to care what’s going on in the world around him.

Into this situation come three strangers: a boy, Hyenkov, who stepped on a landmine, lost both upper extremities, and hence is called The Boy With No Arms; his sister, Agrin, and a blind child who they claim is their younger brother, Risa. It soon becomes evident that Risa is actually Agrin’s son, born of a rape by Iraqi soldiers and hated by Agrin as a symbol of what was done to her. Meanwhile, Hyenkov has a gift of prophecy, and announces that the war is coming, very, very soon.

It’s difficult to actually provide spoilers in a story of this kind, because you know what the historical background is, and what’s about to happen. Suffice it to say that it ends tragically for everyone, and that any and all signs of hope die swiftly away into despair.

This is a film built around the children, especially Satellite and Agrin; the adults come across as bullying, ineffective, or clueless, or a combination of the three. It’s far from a children’s film though, and its unremitting grimness would probably be too much for most adults.

It’s got its good, even great points, such as the really great cinematography, the depiction of the squalid refugee camp littered with piles of burned out tanks and personnel carriers, and excellent acting by most of the kids (I personally found Satellite intensely annoying in the early stages, but maybe he was intended to be). It’s got a fairly good story, too, and doesn’t take any of the cop-outs this genre offers to give the viewer a happy ending. But then it’s an Iranian film, not Hollywood, so that shouldn’t be so surprising.


I must admit that I always mentally switch off whenever a serious storyline introduces such Salman Rushdiesque touches as prophecies and so on, so I probably am not doing this film the justice that I should; but I find things like “The Boy With No Arms says something important will happen in 275 days” simply annoying. But, even leaving aside the prophecy angle, there are some things wrong that one just can’t ignore.

Historically, the failures are many: the Kurds in the film, on the border with Turkey, eagerly await the Americans and the downfall of Saddam Hussein. In reality, by 2003, they had been running their own affairs for about ten years, protected by the American air force, and their enemy was not the Iraqi regime in Baghdad, but the Turks, who routinely shelled and invaded Northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas. And, unless I am much mistaken, Turkey refused to allow an American invasion force to attack Iraq from the north, so the film’s columns of US armour roaring through the village is utter fantasy.

And, while this film was made in 2004, looking from today’s vantage point, the irony is telling: Argin’s raped by Iraqi soldiers then, a crime; and the rapists of Iraqi girls in Haditha and elsewhere got away because they happen to be members of the “liberation forces”. Time is such a liberator from blinkers, isn’t it?

I do commend the ending, though; as the Americans roar through the village, Satellite, who had earlier excitedly called the noise of American engines “the sound of American passports,” and who should by rights be running to greet them, does nothing of the sort. Instead, he...turns his back on them.

H’m, the ending alone drives my rating up by half a star.

Satellite: Soran Ebrahim
Agrin: Avaz Latif
Hyenkov: Hirsh Feyssal

Bahman Ghobadi.

Kurdish, with English subtitles.

No comments:

Post a Comment