Turtles Can Fly

by

In a Kurdish settlement near the border of Iraq and Turkey, just before the invasion of Iraq by American troops, a group of children earn some much-needed money by defusing and selling land mines. It’s dangerous work, but many of the children have already been injured by past routings of the Kurds by Iraqi soldiers. The leader is a 13-year-old boy called Satellite, the kind of natural hustler who emerges in extreme situations, a combination of businessman and father figure to his underlings. Aside from overseeing the land mine transactions, Satellite’s specialty is obtaining and setting up the satellite dishes (hence the nickname) the villagers so desperately want in order to watch American news stations — partly because they’re concerned about the upcoming war and partly because all the non-news stations have been prohibited, presumably by Muslim elders.

Satellite becomes smitten by a new arrival to the settlement, a sullen and suicidal young girl named Agrin, who has an armless brother and a blind baby, the latter the result of her rape by Iraqi soldiers. Whenever Agrin appears, the normally all-businesslike Satellite just stops and stares at her with a goofy look on his face, trying to think of something to say. It’s puppy love in a hellish environment, an example of normalcy persisting in a bizarre situation. But Agrin is unreachable and her brother, who seems to have predictive powers, takes an immediate dislike to Satellite.

This is the third film by Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses). Like many of his countrymen, he prefers to use nonprofessional actors and children, which gives the film an odd, halting rhythm that adds to its rustic flavor and neorealist designs. It’s a matter-of-fact approach that serves the film’s material well, preventing it from sinking into the bathos of maimed children eking out a poverty-stricken existence without any adult help. Instead of sentimentalizing their plight, he serves it up straight, and the film can be tough to watch at times. However, there seems to be no particular agenda regarding the ensuing Iraqi war; the film merely says, “This is the way it is; make of it what you will.”

 

In Kurdish with English subtitles. Showing at 7 and 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 22 and 23, and at 4 p.m., Sunday, April 24, at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237).

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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