Sunday, 28 September 2008

Review: Turtles Can Fly | Times and Winds

If you’re going to make a film about children, you need to make sure that the children are, well, childlike. This is the downfall of Times and Winds, an almost charming story set in the picturesque hills of northern Turkey. Young Omer, its central character, resents his upstanding father and spends his hours devising ways to kill him. I suppose it’s an achievement in itself that these efforts come across as quirky rather than psychotic, but nevertheless, the film is let down by its child actors. They all have the slightly wooden manner that makes you think there’s an adult just out of the frame, telling them what to do. Numerous issues are covered: sibling jealousy, the pain of feeling unloved by a parent, the realisation of sex, the heartbreaking imperfection of our parents, humiliation, inadequacy, desire, taboo. But the film itself jars; it is sometimes badly pieced together, or sometimes badly acted, or both. As you stumble out of the cinema, blinking, you’d be forgiven for imagining that you had accidentally wandered into an exhibition of beautiful landscape stills, only they happened to be moving.

Director Bahman Ghobadi, by contrast, despite the unremitting grimness of Turtles Can Fly, manages to imbue each scene with a sense of hope that must be attributed to the spirit of the child non-actors who make up its cast. Set in a Kurdish refugee camp in northern Iraq just before the US invasion, the story revolves around Satellite, a young, intelligent and wonderfully manipulative natural leader, and three newcomers to the village: an armless boy who can tell the future, his sad and silent sister, and a kid who appears to be their little brother. They and the other children in the community, many of whom have suffered horrific injuries, spend their days plucking land mines out of the surrounding hills and selling them on. The situation is bleak, and so is the story, which makes the frequent humour and vitality exhibited by the kids really quite impressive. The only problem with the film is that it does kind of portray the US invasion as a good thing, which is almost certainly a nonsense. But since the story ends just after news of the invasion arrives, we can perhaps interpret this as a symbol of the hope that people felt about the change of regime, before they realised what an awful disaster it would prove to be. Perhaps.

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