Turtles Can Fly

Anyone else see this?

From Ebert’s review:

[i]I wish everyone who has an opinion on the war in Iraq could see “Turtles Can Fly.” That would mean everyone in the White House and in Congress, and the newspaper writers, and the TV pundits, and the radio talkers, and you – especially you, because you are reading this and they are not.

You assume the movie is a liberal attack on George W. Bush’s policies. Not at all. The action takes place just before the American invasion begins, and the characters in it look forward to the invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein. Nor does the movie later betray an opinion one way or the other about the war. It is about the actual lives of refugees, who lack the luxury of opinions because they are preoccupied with staying alive in a world that has no place for them.[/i]

Rented and watched with my wife on Friday (instead of braving the Potter lines). Wonderful.

I came here expecting another Gamera thread. Sigh.

Movies like this and Osama really are “Important” in the sense that they’re a brutal insight into a country’s psyche. You have to wonder what the events in Afghanistan and Iraq have done to the people there, and the people who made these two movies offer devastating perspectives.

As for Turtles Can Fly, I’m not sure I agree with Ebert when he says it doesn’t have an opinion about the war. There’s certainly no moralizing in it – and I think that’s Ebert’s main point – but a lot of what you see is colored by what we know about the two years since it’s happened.

I’m thinking in particular of the scene of the helicopters dropping leaflets into people’s outstretched arms as Satellite translates the promise of peace, friendship, and even paradise. It’s a powerful scene because we know what’s going to happen instead.

Also, I think there’s a very strong message in terms of how the movie ended: the Americans arrived too late.

And I’m curious about the final prophecy that something is going to happen in 275 days. What happened 275 days after Saddam Hussein fell?

It’s a powerful movie, but like Osama (and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay*), it’s really hard to watch partly because the children in it are so good in a way that you could never hope to see with American kid actors.


  • I imagine some folks might also think of City of God as well, but that movie had far too much American influence in terms of its technique and storytelling. These movies are blissfully free of even the faintest whiff of Hollywood.

I need to see Osama - Jill and I have been meaning to for over a year, but it was only for rent at this old Hollywood Video in Omaha, and the Mr. Movies in Iowa City is rather wanting.

That has to be right (about Ebert’s point), even more that it’s not a didactic film in a field that is otherwise decidedly sympathetic to liberalism, if not as openly the sort of class liberalism Turtles highlights. I think Ebert gets it exactly right when he describes them as outside of history, forsaken by Western media narrative. These are the people the media talks about but consistently illustrates it has no sensitivity to or empathy for when it talks about “the Iraqi people” and democracy and elections and self-rule.

I like the two-year on coloring, personally. In a way it adds gravity to those very few moments (like the helicopters dropping leaflets), like temporary moments of almost-lucidity in an otherwise impossibly ambiguous and moment-to-moment hypno-survivalist mix - innocence and brutal comprehension all swirled together, effervescence and miasma.

The 275 days… I have no idea, but in an interview the director alludes to something about the number projecting the film subconsciously forward in the viewer’s mind (cheap trick or smart symbolism, I can’t decide).

Speaking of whiff-free movies, have you seen Russian Ark? No Man’s Land? The Sea Inside? RA, probably because I’ve been completely consumed by its unprecedented technique, is probably the most powerful “film” I’ve ever seen. I’ve been through the Hermitage, walked those trails and stood in all those rooms, and the film still moved me beyond words.

Matt, I have to admit I wrote off Russian Ark as a gimmick. Do you recommend it to someone who doesn’t know an Hermitage from an Armistice? As for Sea Inside, I wrote that off as a disability-of-the-week movie. I love Javier Bardem (Dancer Upstairs is probably my favorite of the movies he carries). Should I rethink Sea Inside?

No Man’s Land is excellent. I love that movie’s sense of humor, although I’m not sure that’s the right term. I actually want to see that again. It’s another example of a movie without a whiff of Hollywood that does a great job of portraying a unique national psyche.


Tom, I must admit to probable bias in the case of Russian Ark. My wife and I led and taught a group of undergrads in Petersburg summer 2001 and I was quite…taken with the city. Still, I think if you’re in the right frame of mind to watch it…it’s not really entertainment, more like a meditation on Russia (European) vs. Europe itself, sort of “enlightenment west vs. orthodox-wanting-to-be-European east.” I’d spent the summer absorbing as much as I could between Vilnius, Lithuania and Petersburg, Russia, teaching a book of short stories that addressed some of the issues of cultural friction and sublimation, so it resonated with me, though don’t mistake that for academic pretention. I don’t feel anything pretentious emanating from the film.

I do recommend it, and if you watch it, I also strongly recommend the featurette. There’s something unexplainably powerful when you see the crew fall down at the very end, weeping real tears, just overwhelmed by the experience…the emotional investment involved in putting it all together, and that they had ONE DAY to get it right, make or break, choreographing a cast of thousands.

But again, you need to be in the right frame of mind to absorb it. Imagine a meta-narrative dialogue between “Europe” and “Russia” framed in weird time-slipstreamy historical re-enactments that jump along the centuries. It’s definitely not popcorn munching fare. :)

As for Sea Inside, Jill caught it Saturday night without me and said it was pretty good, but I haven’t yet personally seen it - on the agenda before its return date.

Jill’s a poli-sci grad student, and somehow knew about No Man’s Land, which didn’t surprise me at all after viewing it with her. Everything and everyone is savaged equally in that movie, nothing is safe. It somehow felt like the most intellectually honest approach to the amazing snarls, excuses, power struggles, blame-games, etc. that accompany international conflict resolution. For all my leftist tendencies, which in principle stipulate I defend conceptually “humanitarian” organizations, it’s impossible not to see the ways in which complex systems organized by bureaucrats and lawyers and politicians invariably fail to overcome the old “ends justify means” statistical cop-out.

I just saw Turtles Can Fly this past week, and I was not impressed. Once you got past the, “OMG I can’t believe refugee camps are that bad!” part, I’m not sure how much story is left. The armless prophet seems completely out of place in a movie that was concerned with real issues. Which isn’t to say it was bad, but I just don’t get the panegyrics people are lauding on it. Then again, maybe my dad walking in and spouting Arabic gibberish ten seconds before the kid hit the landmine ruined it.

Did either of you see In This World?

As for Russian Ark, I can’t recommend it to anyone without a deep familiarity with Russian history. Like Matt says, there’s some weird dialog about Russia’s place in Europe, but it went completely over my head. And while I love long takes, shooting the whole film at once severely limits what they can do, and I’m not sure it was worth it.