The first thing you notice about Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can Fly (2004) is how much more technically accomplished it is than most films we see from this part of the world. The colors are bright and vivid, the images are sharp and detailed, the compositions are elegant and striking, the camerawork as slick as anything from a major U.S. studio. Not only is this a pleasing departure in its own right, but it’s essential to Ghobadi’s approach, since the technical proficiency makes the grim reality of the world of its Kurdish refugee children look even grimmer by contrast. The film — the first made in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein — is a striking look at these nearly forgotten victims of war, and a sobering, saddening experience.
Though dismissed by a few as shamelessly manipulative because of the use of children, especially maimed ones, to make its point, Turtles Can Fly is strong stuff that should be seen. It’s a political work, but Ghobadi’s film — focusing on children making a bare living by digging up and selling Iraqi landmines — is more in search of the common experience of humanity. Nowhere is this more evident than in a scene where the main character (Soran Ebrahim) — a psychic, armless boy — has predicted something will happen to a truck that’s being unloaded. He urges the kids to get off the truck, at which point someone tells him, “Not all of them are our boys,” only to have him respond, “That doesn’t matter.” That says it all.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke