Combustible Celluloid
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With: Soran Ebrahim, Hirsh Feyssal, Avaz Latif
Written by: Bahman Ghobadi
Directed by: Bahman Ghobadi
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Kurdish with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/10/2004

Turtles Can Fly (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Satellite of Love

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Kurdish/Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi gravitates towards stories of the wastelands between big cities and big wars; he's more interested in the wretched effects of such things as they trickle down, unnoticed, to the edges. While his previous two films, A Time for Drunken Horses and Marooned in Iraq, were highly accomplished works, they still had a certain distance to them. With his third effort, Ghobadi has bridged that distance and delivered his most heartbreakingly touching and profoundly humanist film, Turtles Can Fly, already one of the year's best films. Most of the action takes place in a small village where the children have long ago left childhood behind and learned to fend for themselves. One such child, called Satellite (Soran Ebrahim), has established himself as a leader and negotiates with adults on behalf of the children. They work disarming the minefields and selling the explosives for cash. Satellite also helps to hook up satellite televisions for the village chiefs so that they can stay up-to-date on Bush and the looming war.

Into the mix comes Henkov (Hirsh Feyssal), a boy with no arms said to be a "seer." Henkov travels with his sister Agrin (Avaz Latif) and a smaller child that they have seemingly rescued, acting as surrogate parents. Agrin, an astonishingly beautiful child with haunted eyes, repeatedly toys with suicide, teetering on the brink of a high cliff from time to time. Ghobadi delicately threads a thin veneer of hope through an increasingly frightening landscape, in which danger seems to steadily, physically close in on the characters. Small moments come, here and there, in which the children are allowed to be children again, if only for a moment. No matter what happens, they are quick to tears and they love fiercely. This skillful, powerhouse film comes closer even than Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar to depicting just how war has affected daily life in Iran and Iraq, and how there is no bigger casualty than loss of childhood.

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