Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Turtles Can Fly

(Lakposhtha hâm parvaz mikonand, Iran, Iraq, 2004)

(Kurdish language) A joint Iran-Iraq production, and the first film produced after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It takes place in a Kurdish refugee camp along the Iraqi-Turkish border, in an area hopefully called “Kurdistan” by the people who live there. Kurds are a people without a homeland, being unwelcome guests in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Nobody wants them, but everybody wants their land, because there’s oil under it.

The people in the camp have been tossed around by the tides of war for decades. Now everyone knows the Americans are about to invade Iraq, and their lives are about to change again. For good or bad, who knows? It could hardly be worse. The orphaned children, many of them maimed by land mines, are led by a little hustler called Satellite, because he knows how to hook up satellite dishes. He knows a little of everything, actually, including how to make a profit on land mines. He gets the children to dig them up, and sells them to a middle man who either resells them to people who will bury them again, or to the United Nations, which pays a bounty. These are mines put in place by Saddam in his continuing war with the Kurds. But many of them were made in America. These are seen as the best, the ones most in demand.

Maybe someone can tell me how the people who make these things can sleep at night, knowing that they are more likely to kill civilians than soldiers, and that they will wait patiently for decades after the wars are over, one way or another, waiting to blow the limbs off children. No, don’t bother. God damn you all to hell, all the arms makers.

It is a very bleak story, shot with first-time actors who do a great job of acting. Of course, playing the part of The Boy With No Arms is easy enough for Hirsh Feyssal, whose own arms were blown off long ago, by a mine that was most likely Made in America …

But don’t expect an anti-American polemic. This is not one. The Kurds are hopeful that things will be better when the Americans arrive. (And they are, a little. At least so far. Kurds now have a political voice they never had before. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.) No, the only political message is a simple one I think everyone can endorse: War disrupts lives, and children are the biggest victims. This is not an easy movie to watch. The Boy With No Arms had a sister, The Girl With Dead Eyes, who was violently gang-raped by Iraqi soldiers and left with the horrible memory and the blind baby she can’t love.