“Intends to let the world know something about the Kurdish people and their suffering.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Bahman Ghobadi (“A Time for Drunken Horses“/”Marooned in Iraq”), a Kurdish director from Iran, in his third feature intends to let the world know something about the Kurdish people and their suffering. “Turtles” is a grim look at the hardships endured by the Kurds living on the Iraqi side of the border with Turkey, in a refugee camp and a small nearby village called Kanibo, just at the onset of America’s 2003 second invasion of Iraq. The film stars local nonprofessionals as actors, in a cast made up primarily of children (it’s through the children’s eyes we view the narrative). It has the distinction of being the first feature made in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Soran Ebrahim stars as Satellite, a personable and resolute 13-year-old boy nicknamed for his obsession with putting up dishes for all the villages in the area. He convinces the village elders to install a satellite dish to pick up news of the coming conflict. Satellite has become the leader of a horde of orphan children living in the refugee camp near the impoverished village, taking on the role of surrogate parent, entrepreneur, translator, and life-saver to the kids who flock around him. Under his command the children, of whom many are missing arms and legs, forage in scrap heaps and fields for unexploded mines, which they sell to locals who then sell it to U.N. personnel for even greater profit.
Satellite finds himself taken with a newly arrived unhappy orphan girl, Agrin (Avaz Latif), who stays in the refugee camp with her armless older brother, Henkov (Hiresh Feysal Rahman), and a little blind boy that might or might not be a relative. Henkov searches the minefields and detonates the mines with his teeth to earn his meager living to support the family and he also has the ability to make predictions, a gift that others value more than he does. Seeing the future does not make him a happy camper (the allegorical theme of the film). Finding some joy in hustling to survive in such chaotic conditions and driven to help the suicidal Agin anyway he can, Satellite brings her water, dives for red fish, and with the little money he saves he purchases for her a gift of an international necklace, but it’s all in vain and it seems to have no effect in changing the haunted girl’s broken heart (the other allegorical theme, the people are so downtrodden that it’s too late for anyone to help them).
The energetic film, with a dark sense of humor, charges into one impending critical situation after another and never pauses to look back to evaluate what took place. Many possible subplots are brought up and just as quickly are forgotten (such as, an Iranian doctor in Iraq searching for an armless boy who makes predictions). It’s a messy film but is strangely lyrical and moving, as it paints its ugly picture of a war-torn country that was promised by Bush that this war would make things better. The final shot of the once optimistic Satellite, now on crutches from a minefield explosion, turning his back on the American soldiers passing through his village, the same soldiers he a short time ago welcomed as the saviors of his people, tells us how that optimism has faded. It’s a tale of the human condition that can’t help reminding you of Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.”
REVIEWED ON 11/20/2005 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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