Starring: Soran Ebrahim, Avaz Latif, Hiresh Feysal Rahman
Director: Bahman Ghobadi
Running Time: 97 mins
Turtles Can Fly (لاکپشتها هم پرواز میکنند) is an Iranian/Iraqi film about a refugee camp on the Turkish-Iraqi border on the eve of the 2003 US invasion, and the lives of the children taking refuge there as they await their fate.
While the impact of war on ordinary, innocent people is a common subject matter in film, very rarely do we see a film like Turtles Can Fly, which details the impact of an impending war, and the chaos it causes as people are left helpless while normal society breaks down around them.
In that, the film is a devastating watch, with a particularly heart-wrenching look at the impact of the situation on children, and with an emotionally stirring musical score and bleak visuals throughout, there’s no escaping the fact that Turtles Can Fly is a very heavy-going watch.
The film’s subject matter and historical setting make for interesting watching, as given the still-recent nature of the US invasion of Iraq, and even more so for when the film was made, there’s a poignant and groundbreaking nature to the narrative, as it’s a film that’s not there to specifically criticise the Americans’ operations, as so many other films do, but rather give a contemporary and recent case study for the devastating effects of war.
Furthermore, the instability and uncertainty that’s brought about by the impending threat of war is something that you can feel right the way through this film, with the paranoia of the village’s adults about the imminent invasion leaving normal society to fall apart, and leaving the gap open for the town’s children to take the reigns in a variety of spheres.
And that’s where the film’s most powerful line of focus comes in. On the one hand, you have the heartbreaking reality of children whose childhoods are wrecked by being forced into dangerous situations, with a number of truly devastating moments throughout that will really hit you where it hurts, in turn featuring heart-wrenching emotional drama that’s reminiscent of the likes of Grave Of The Fireflies and In This Corner Of The World.
On the other hand, though, one of the most surprisingly moving things about Turtles Can Fly is its presentation of the children’s determination and drive in the face of so much chaos in their lives. Rallying together to help their makeshift community by removing mines from the surrounding landscape, and doing everything to keep the village informed about the status of the impending invasion, it proves a very poignant and unexpectedly uplifting part of the film, picking the perfect opportunity to show what can be done even when everything around you seems lost.
Of course, the film’s overwhelming attitude is significantly more bleak, and along with showing the devastating impact of war on normal communities, it also looks into a number of other horrifying issues, and with such bleak visuals that dominate the screen from beginning to end, there’s no escaping the horror of the reality in which so many people are forced to live.
Finally, the film’s score is the final element that makes this such an affecting watch, with a combination of elegant sounds and a deeper, melancholy feel that perfectly sum up the film’s emotional core, something that will really move you deep down.
Overall, I was really taken aback by Turtles Can Fly. It’s not a film for the faint-hearted, with an unrelentingly devastating portrayal of the real impact of war, not only during conflict, but before fighting even breaks out, and with a deeply emotional and poignant presentation of the role of innocent children in trying to keep society afloat against a tide of horror and chaos, it’s a truly devastating film that will surely stay with you for a long while, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.