Turtles Can Fly

Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi returns to his native Kurdistan — the scene of his first feature, A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES (2000) — and crafts a small and very timely masterpiece. This time, however, the country is Iraq, just days before the 2003 invasion by U.S. and British forces. Kanibo is a tiny village perched on the border between Iraq and Turkey...read more

Reviewed by Ken Fox
Rating:

Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi returns to his native Kurdistan — the scene of his first feature, A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES (2000) — and crafts a small and very timely masterpiece. This time, however, the country is Iraq, just days before the 2003 invasion by U.S. and British forces. Kanibo is a tiny village perched on the border between Iraq and Turkey that has become a depository for war wreckage: The village is ringed by refugee tents, the fields are filled with American land mines and empty spaces have become parking lots for junked tanks and used shell casings. With the threat of yet another conflict hanging over their heads, news is at a premium, and young, crafty Soran (Soran Ebrahim) has made a nickname for himself installing satellite dishes in the neighboring villages. As the news of war begins to trickle in, the town elders beg "Satellite" to translate the CNN broadcast (he's has fooled them all into thinking he understands English), but the enterprising young man has other irons on the fire. He's organized the village children into teams that carefully scour the surrounding fields for U.S. lands mines which Satellite then trades for cash. It's incredibly dangerous work but the kids' only source of income, and Satellite is afraid that the recent arrival of Hengov (Hiresh Feysal Rahman), a teenage boy who's lost both arms but can still disarm land mines with his teeth, is going to interfere with his business. Satellite doesn't know much about Hengov, other than the fact that he originally hails from Halabcheh, where Saddam Hussein once used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds; he lives in a refugee tent with his sister, Agrin (Avaz Latif), and a blind toddler (Abdol Rahamn Karim); and their parents are both dead. Satellite is also pretty sure he's in love with Agrin. After Hengov warns the children that a shell casing is going explode shortly before it does, Satellite becomes convinced that Hengov is actually the future predicting orphan he's heard about, and begs him to give him news of the impending American invasion. Nothing quite throws the horror of war into greater relief that the plight of a country's children, and Ghobadi uses the actual youth of Kurdistan's to great effect. All are wonderfully natural, non-professional young actors, and far too many are missing hands, feet and limbs — consequences of the countless U.S. land mines that still litter the fields where they work and play. Ghobadi has little use for sentimentality, and never flinches from the fate of these children. Nor does he neglect to reminded us who's largely responsible for their misery. As Coalition choppers distributing leaflets tell the people of Kanibo of the U.S.-liberated paradise that awaits them all, he never fails to mention where all those land mines came from.

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