Turtles Can Fly (15)
Time Out saysSome films are remarkable for the mere fact that they exist at all. An Iranian Kurd, Bahman Ghobadi is the first director to make a film in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, so scooping the wider world’s imminent assault on that country. Roberto Benigni (‘Life is Beautiful’) has lately completed a (no doubt idiosyncratic) love story set in Baghdad during the lead-up to the war, while Harrison Ford has recently been cast to play an American general in a Hollywood movie about the US Army’s assault on Fallujah. Neither of which films, I’ll hazard a guess, will end up looking anything like this, which is set and was shot among the Kurdish people on the border between Iraq and Turkey.
It’s the eve of the American invasion and we find ourselves with a ragtag group of refugee children who are living in a makeshift town of tents, old tanks and still-live minefields. The mountainous landscape is thrilling, but the mood is expectant: war is coming. One odd-looking young boy, nicknamed Satellite by virtue of his job installing TV receivers in the area, talks sagely about the Americans and with disdain about the Iraqi government: ‘Look what Saddam has done to us… they don’t let our TVs work to see when the war will start.’
But any light banter is overshadowed by the film’s opening, flash-forward image of Agrin, a teenage girl, throwing herself off a precipice. When the same girl re-appears in real time, flanked by her brother and a little blind boy (whom we later find out is probably her son as a result of rape), we can only wonder and wait to discover exactly how this particular circle will be complete.
Ghobadi leads us through a dangerous world where adults are strangely scarce and children run their own lives in the shadow of impending doom. The enduring images are of chaos and perversion: an armless child unscrews a landmine with his teeth; a blind child stands innocently in a minefield. When, at the film’s close, the arriving American soldiers jog through the area in their desert camouflage gear, it’s like witnessing astronauts colonising the moon.