Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Look On! Turtles: Iraq war refugees

(Look On! takes occasional note of noteworthy productions)

I decided to watch Turtles Can Fly (2004), as part of my ongoing research into human rights and film, after it was recommended to me by a fellow intern at the International Criminal Court. She told me that it had invoked a strong reaction in her. I asked her if it was good, and she replied that she did not know what my criteria were to be able to answer my question.
When I review the films, I often do not have particular criteria in mind.
I am not fixated by the 'legal realism' which dominated much of law and film scholarship beforehand; that is, I am not really interested in watching In the Name of the Father (1993), for instance, and pointing out all the procedural inaccuracies.
Nor am I purely looking at the formal aspects of cinematography. Being quite new to film studies, I often find myself captivated by the film and drifting off, instead of critically assessing the shots, editing, and mise en scène, all so de rigueur for film scholars.
But whatever the criteria, Turtles Can Fly, which focuses on the plight of children in refugee camps on the Iraqi/Turkish border, is an excellent film.
Turtles was directed by Bahman Ghobadi, who was himself born in Iranian Kurdistan. In a director's statement (p. 35 here), he wrote of the movie:
'Just as the world TV networks were announcing the end of the war, I began to make a film whose leading stars were neither Bush, nor Saddam, nor any other dictators. Those people had been the media stars the world over. Nobody mentioned the Iraqi people. There hadn't been a single shot of the Iraqis. They were mere extras...'
Shot on location, Turtles beautifully captures the consequences of war and poverty for children, who are often rendered extremely vulnerable. Many of the street children in the film have lost their limbs due to the Italian and US landmines. They receive money for picking them from the fields.
The film also tells the story of a girl, Agrin, and her brother, Hengov, who has lost his arms after stepping on a landmine. They have a small, blind child with them. It transpires that the toddler is the child of the girl. Through flashbacks, we see that the girl has been brutally raped by the men who killed their parents.
Through the course of the film I came to emotionally connect with the characters: Satellite, a boy in command of the children, the boy with no arms who can tell the future, the young boys collecting mines and hoping to be rescued by the American soldiers, the girl who has given birth to a baby that she does not want...
I have to thank my friend for this recommendation. An excellent and very moving film.

(Cross-posted at Human Rights Film Diary blog)

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