Turtles Can Fly poster

Turtles Can Fly

wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)

quick review:

Turtles Can Fly will often make you want to use the fast forward button – but you won’t be able to because you’ll be so caught up in the lives of these children who live their life in Kurdish refugee camps. It’s heart-warming and horrifying at the same time. It’s a small story about a magnanimously large historical and political event. Ghobadi’s personal perspective comes in beautifully about his origin. Turtles Can Fly is colourful but painted on a black canvas; it’ll constantly remind you of the realities the film is based on. Watch with a strong heart, and an open sense of humour.

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Director: Bahman Ghobadi
Running time: 95 minutes
Categories: World Cinema
Genres: War
More Movie Info

Picture a smile creeping up your face; but you find yourself stopping it because what you want to smile about is a very serious matter. Mostly because you don’t even know what is making you smile. Immediately after that, you find yourself with a lumpy throat and wide, horrified eyes – viewing something that makes your gut wrench.

This is an experience Bahman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can Fly will bring to you. A film set in a Kurdish Refugee camp, on the Turkish border of Iraq, graphs the everyday lives of children, before the US invasion, who have been living the atrocities of their limbo state.

The film revolves around three main characters – Satellite (Sohran Ebrahim) the youngest authoritarian in the village - a boy who is most resourceful. He controls all the children who diffuses landmines with their bare hands and exchange them for machine guns in the local market.

On the other hand, there’s brother-sister Agrin and Hyenkov, the calmest yet most affected children of the lot. Hyenkov has no hands; he uses his lips to diffuse the mines. Agrin is quiet throughout the film, but in her eyes you can virtually see the entire war. It’s a helpless, weak and desolate perspective which reminds you every minute how lucky you are to be only watching the film.

More than loss of innocence, Turtles Can Fly also deals with a bunch of beautifully alarming paradoxes. For one, you can see the villagers and children looking forward to the US invasion because what they most desire is the fall of Saddam. Yet they call the land mines “American”. It’s almost hard to believe these children are teenagers, being equipped with such hard responsibilities and no security – yet you can see them making merry out of the little they have, walking around with one hand or one leg and smiling like there’s literally no tomorrow. Maybe it’s a distinct childlike quality or maybe it’s just their idea of living life king-size.

Keeping the emotional overtone in the film aside, Turtles Can Fly uses beautiful imagery to juxtapose the horrid state of the people. The cinematography is detailed and colourful, incorporating the same sense of paradox that binds the film together. The performances of each child actor is natural and endearing, making you rightly believe that they are too busy trying to survive to have an opinion on the politics of the war. As an audience, it makes you realize how beautifully Iranian films are shot despite their controlled, government-funded budget.

Primary reason to pick up a Turtles Can Fly DVD is the interview with the same children from the film. It’s a non-professional cast and therefore the children mostly talk about their experience while filming. In these interviews, you can see a dripping innocence and a mischievous imprint of the children – the same quality which is lost in the film. The DVD also has a few extended theatrical trailers of the film.

The realities slap you in the face with every passing second but it also has a surreal after-ring to it. Turtles Can Fly is sprinkled with magical realism – you know it can’t get more real than this and yet there is a fantastic sense in their attitudes and lifestyle.

This feeling is best expressed with one hard-hitting yet surreal scene- a baby tries to make a turtle drown in a small pond, and through the baby’s perspective you get an underwater shot of the turtle wading, almost flying around like there’s no worry in the world. You may just hear laughter at some point in the film – maybe of a child or maybe even your own – but it’s a laughter wrapped with a palpable sense of danger. Watch the film if you can watch turtles fly in spite of broken limbs.

This review is by guest reviewer Swetha Ramakrishnan. Swetha Ramakrishnan is currently living and working in Mumbai. She's a self-confessed film enthusiast and can most likely be found talking to anyone and everyone about popular cinema and her love for SRK. Swetha Ramakrishnan also blogs at http://swetharamakrishnan.blogspot.com/.

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Images of children with broken limbs, not a sight to be watched by all
  • Language: English subtitles, innocent language used by children
  • Nudity & Sexual content: None
  • Concept: Surreal yet dark
  • General Look and Feel: A mix of colorful and monochromatic tones

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

Lead Actors:
Character Artists:
Music Director:

Turtles Can Fly - Cast, crew, links

Music Director:
Running time:
95 minutes

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