July 26, 2007
Bahman Ghobadi's "Turtles Can Fly"
What a disturbing movie! Iranian Kurdish director, Bahman Ghobadi's stark presentation of a land and people torn apart physically and emotionally by war brings the bile up my throat even as I think about the movie. 'Turtles Can Fly' ( watch the trailer) is definitely not a movie for the faint of heart.
'Turtles Can Fly' won several awards for Iranian Kurdish director Ghobadi after it was released in 2005, and deservedly so. It is a movie that would shake up the coldest of cold hearts as the camera zooms in on the tons and tons of war remnants which are now the home of orphaned children; a tank, a missile launcher are some of the war memorablia providing shelter for the 12 and 15 year olds who look forward to their daily routine of cleaning ot landmines from fields in Kurdistan. Each live landmine they put into their baskets, that they so uncomplainingly carry on their young backs, means an additional 15 cents for them! If it's an American landmine it fetches an even higher price; possibly the reason these children, especially their leader 'Satellite', loves America! Their starved and crippled light-weight bodies make them perfect fits for their job, that of finding, defusing, and collecting landmines; something many of them do with uncanny dexterity, even with their mouths since many of them have no arms!
Despite the sombre theme of the movie, its rendition is not all serious. The movie has some light hearted moments that provoke spontaneous laughter for which you are immediately ridden with guilt; 'how can I be laughing in a situation like this!' Satellite, the chief protagonist brings in most of the laughs as do his young assistants, all of who are crippled orphans, victims of a war they have embraced as a normal state of being. Their life, though war ravaged to the viewer, appears quite busy and meaningful to them, as they go about cheerfully earning their livelihood with no expectations of a helping hand; yet, there's not a negative bone in any of them save in the 15 year old girl Agrin who is so obviously a victim of depression, probably due to all that she's been through. All of these youngsters carry their physical and emotional handicaps with such ease and frankness that it makes the viewer uneasy, to say the least. Ghobadi juxtaposes the innocence and energy of these Kurdish orphans living in a war-torn Iraq with the cold blooded hostilities of war, but the violence and gore is to be felt more than it is to be seen in the movie. Regardless of which side you may be on, an Iraqi or a westerner, Ghobadi has you eating out of his hand so far as this movie is concerned. When Satellite's first in command, the 13 year old one legged Pasheo, uses his limp leg as a toy gun to go 'bam' bam' in order to distract and entertain a two year old who is crying, is a scene that marks Ghobadi's mastery in wrenching the deepest emotions out of the coldest hearts.
As for the title, 'Turtles can Fly', you can make what you want out of it; however, this is one explanation that helps me out of my gloom and guilt of having lived safe and away while the Iraq War raged: something as slow as a turtle and with a reach that barely keeps it above the ground, can still find it in himself to rise above all limitations to give meaning to his life and to the lives of those around him. Turtles CAN fly!