East Bay View (a blog about several things)

now 98% free of substantive content

Monday, May 02, 2005

Turtles Can Fly: Life and nothing but [movie note]

Turtles Can Fly is set in a tent village of children in Kurdistan, just inside the Iraqi border. There's a permanent settlement of adults up the hill, but for the most part they're content to let the kids be. For their part, the youngsters are satisfied with this arrangement - it leaves them the freedom that's the small compensation for their losses. Their leader is 13-year-old Satellite (Soran Ebrahim), who's achieved his position of power through his ruthless entrepeneurial spirit and his strategic deployment of Yankee slang. He dispatches his followers to various landowners, whose lands they'll clear of mines. They'll resell the mines to earn their keep. A mysterious group arrives, sister and brother Agrin (Avaz Latif), about Satellite's age, and Hengov (Hiresh Feysal Rahman), slightly older, and the toddler Riga (Abdol Rahman Karim). Hengov has lost his arms, but Agrin is the one who seems impossibly sad.

Bahman Ghobadi's previous film, Marooned in Iraq, was a terrific mix of road comedy and national tragedy. It was set just after the 1991 war, whereas Turtles is set just before the 2003 edition. While Ghobadi's can certainly construct a shot - one that stands out is of the children streaming up a hill, anticipating the beginning of hostilities - his strength is his writing; his characters are magnetic whether they burst with life or they draw you in with their internal struggles, and he gets the performances to inflate them from young and old alike.

The movie centres on the rivalry between Satellite and Hengov. Satellite is a opportunistic capitalist and master bullshitter. After he installs a dish for the local elders, they realize they need someone to translate Fox News for them. Satellite doesn't have any idea what's going either, so he tells them that Bush's pronoucement is a prediction of rain tomorrow. Hengov, meanwhile, is a seer - twice in the past he saw the future, and both times the tragic courses came to pass. His only long-term goal is to keep his family together; Satellite's love for Agrin doesn't appear to be a threat to this, as Agrin seems completely disinterested. When Hengov foresees a truck explosion, he only tells his family to leave the area; Satellite must take responsibility for removing everyone else.

Agrin's mindset is different. At first seeming like an ice queen, the only time she's expressive is when demonstrating her resentment of Riga. Her blankness is justified - better to be numb than to be devastated. But she can't stay numb forever. She doesn't represent any particular set of sufferers - she's a symbol of suffering.

Turtles Can Fly is funnier than you'd think possible, but it's in its final plunge into tragedy that it becomes a classic. Neither the worldly pragmatist nor the spiritual visionary has the power to prevent disaster. The Americans arrive, the Americans leave, life goes on. Satellite, damaged physically, is shattered on the inside; his ideals have been shown to be futile. And of the main characters, he gets off the easiest. Day-to-day life may be a struggle, but most of the oppressed can take some joy from it. But when even this is taken, the tragedy is incomparable. Few movies have ever taken us this low.


Post a Comment

<< Home