Turtles Can Fly

Movie Information

Genre: Drama
Director: Bahman Ghobadi
Starring: Soran Ebrahim, Avaz Latif, Saddam Hossein Feysal, Hiresh Feysel Rahman
Rated: PG-13

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

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Turtles Can Fly

  1. Paige

    Hi, could you expand more on the use of children in films being used shamelessly to get the film’s point across? I’m actually doing a paper on that and your comment is exactly what I need. If you could provide any extra insight that’d be amazing.

    • Ken Hanke

      I wish I could, but all I was saying was that the film has been criticized on that score by some. And that observation was made over eight years ago, so I’m not even sure where to point you. You might look on Rotten Tomatoes or the IMDb external reviews for more on the topic.

  2. Anthony

    This is a film that should be shown in local cinemas not just art houses. The message will I’m afraid be topical for many years to come . It could be part of a high school syllabus.

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