Turtles Can Fly (Bahman Ghobadi). 93 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (April 22). For venues and times, see Movies, page 97. Rating: NNNN
With a remarkably light touch, Bahman Ghobadi (A Time For Drunken Horses) weighs down our hearts.
Turtles Can Fly is about the ravages inflicted on the powerless by the powerful. But its greatest strength is the director's ability to fool us into thinking it's about scrappy kids surviving against all odds.
Set in a Kurdish village/refugee camp on the Iraq/Turkey border, Ghobadi's third feature trails a gawky adolescent nicknamed Satellite as he leads a band of kids on mine-hunting expeditions and a trip to buy necessities like a satellite dish and a machine gun. Think the Little Rascals in wartime. Along the way, Satellite develops a crush on a refugee girl whose armless brother seems to be able to predict the future.
As war inches closer and finally breaks out, the lovable Satellite becomes increasingly enfeebled, his would-be girlfriend spirals into insanity, and the boy without arms who sees the future finds that knowing isn't the same as controlling.
The art of relating such a bleak story so gently is not to be taken lightly. Ghobadi's maimed cast of kids embody the devastation of war the way many films promise but fail to do. The result is a movie filled with boisterous, hopeful noise that knows when to give way to silence.