Turtles Can Fly is a Kurdish war drama film directed by Bahman Ghobadi and released in 2004 (at least, in Canada, before releasing the next year for the U.S. and France) as the first film made in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, who is actually an important part of the plot. It opened to considerable critical acclaim, winning the hearts of people such as Roger Ebert, who gave it a perfect score.
In a refugee camp and small village, residents wait for America to arrive and invade Iraq, hopefully bringing down Hussein but also potentially bringing a violent aftermath that the citizens fear. The Leader of the village is a young boy mainly known by his nickname "Satellite" (given to him for his obsession with technology and strong belief in the usefulness of installing satellite dishes to hear broadcasts about the war), who shows a tangible interest in the United States (sprinkling bits of Gratuitous English in his speech, for example) and takes a role of leadership by organizing the children into work groups that make a living by disarming and selling mines to arms dealers in exchange for weapons.
He ends up falling for a young orphan girl named Agrin who arrives with her armless brother Hengov and blind baby brother Riga. Agrin's main characteristic of aloofness comes from her being haunted by a Dark and Troubled Past that she is unable to fully detach herself from, while Hengov serves as a clairvoyant, being able to see into the future. Satellite initially sees Hengov as a rival, since he puruses the same minefield-clearing job as Satellite, but his desire to please Agrin spills over into her family.
Due to the natures of this movie, keep some tissues handy while watching.
Turtles Can Fly contains examples of the following tropes:
- Abusive Parents: Agrin treats Riga very badly due to him being the byproduct of a horrific rape, and attempts to hurt him after he keeps interrupting her suicide attempts. In the end, she kills him.
- The Ace: Satellite is competent at leader, swimmer, and technician.
- Adult Fear: The whole atmosphere might make for a hard watch for parents, especially since the cast is entirely composed of children fending for themselves in a war-struck village.
- Having your kid brutally raped while another one of your kids watches.
- All Love Is Unrequited: Satellite is interested in Agrin, but not the other way around, all the way up to her death.
- The Aloner: Hengov by the end after his entire family dies.
- Aloof Big Sister: Agrin. Her face is always a single neutral emotion, never happy or sad, and she has a cold and distant persona stemming from the trauma of being the victim of a rape.
- An Arm and a Leg: Several of the kids, as a result of the landmines. The notable examples are the armless Hengov as well as Satellite's friend Pashow, who only has one leg.
- Animal Motifs: Riga's turtles are explored briefly in the film, although it may or may not be part of a central theme.
- Barefoot Suicide: Agrin takes off her shoes before jumping off a cliff, and those exact shoes are later discovered by Hengov.
- Blatant Lies: When asked to translate a news message from George W. Bush by a group of elders, Satellite merely says that Bush is saying it'll rain tomorrow. This is followed up with a brief but effective shot later on where one of the elders holds his hand out of his tent, expecting rain.
- Book-Ends: One of Satellite's Establishing Character Moments near the start is him talking about his interest in America. The final scene has him by the side of the road, watching American soldiers go by without as much as a glance.
- Character Development: Satellite's love for America shown in the start of the film has been all but broken by the ending, showcased with him turning his back to the American soldiers as they pass by. Observed by Pashow, who asks why Satellite doesn't want to see them when he expressed his love for them in the past.
- Child Soldiers: Satellite trains the village kids to be this, to some extent, by getting them used to disarming mines and handling weapons. When an adult confronts him about this, Satellite bluntly states that they need to learn it.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Agrin. She was gang raped by soldiers, which is how Riga was born, while Hengov was restrained by more soldiers and unable to help her. She has also presumably been affected by the war, judging by her showing symptoms of PTSD.
- Defiled Forever: Agrin, somewhat. Since Riga is a rape product, Agrin wants to distance herself from him as much as possible.
- Downer Beginning: The first scene is Agrin's suicide.
- Downer Ending: And how. By the time American forces finally arrive, despair has already struck irreversibly. Agrin reaches her limit with Riga and kills him by tying him to a rock and throwing him to the bottom of the lake before committing suicide by jumping off a cliff. Hengov has a dream about it and runs to both the lake and the cliff, finding Riga's dead body and Agrin's shoes. Satellite doesn't get a happy ending, either; he is disabled from the landmine that went off as he was trying to rescue Riga from the minefield, and has lost all of his excitement about America, turning away when the soldiers finally arrive.
- Driven to Suicide: Agrin at the end.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Satellite is most commonly known by his nickname, although his real name is Soran.
- Foregone Conclusion: The first scene reveals that Agrin will ultimately commit suicide by jumping off a cliff. The scene is alluded to throughout the film, with brief scenes of Agrin standing solemnly on that exact cliff. We finally see the context around the scene in the end, where it's revealed that Agrin commits suicide after killing Riga.
- Meta-sense, we all know the the existence and result of Second Gulf War...
- Gratuitous English: Satellite incorporates this into his speech early in the film to humorous effect, especially when the village kids ask him what words he's saying.
- Handicapped Badass: Hengov. Disarms landmines with his teeth and manages to care for Riga without the use of his arms.
- How We Got Here: Agrin's suicide is the first thing we see, and the rest of the film is a flashback of events leading up to (and including) that first scene.
- Interrupted Suicide: Riga interrupts Agrin several times, which is around the time when she starts wanting to hurt him.
- The Leader: Satellite. He is even established as someone all of the village kids look up to; when going to rescue Riga from the minefield, the kids beg for someone else to go in his place to avoid losing their leader.
- No One Could Survive That!: When Satellite tries to rescue Riga from the minefield, Riga ultimately activates a landmine even as Satellite screams for him not to. It's implied at first that Riga and/or Satellite have been killed, but it turns out that both of them survive although Satellite receives a bad injury.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Satellite. We never know his real name.
- Parental Abandonment: Few of the kids have parents or any guardians so the have fend themselves by clearing minefields. None of named character has parent alive, except Riga.
- Psychic Powers: Deconstructed with Hengov. He is a clairvoyant, being able to see visions of the future in his dreams, but has reportedly not always been correct in the past, leading to him having a bad reputation in the village.
- Puppy Love: Satellite shows interest in Agrin from early on, although Agrin doesn't return his affection.
- Rape as Drama: Agrin was gang raped by soldiers, leading to the birth of Riga and the reason why she dislikes him so much and tries to disassociate herself from him.
- The Reveal: Riga's not Agrin's brother; he's her son. Produced by a gang rape, no less.
- Say My Name: In the end, Hengov yells Agrin's name several times while standing on the cliff she jumped off of.
- Signature Item Clue: In the end, Hengov is able to identify Riga and Agrin by their shoes once they have both died; he sees Riga's bright blue boots at the bottom of the lake as well as Agrin's shoes at the edge of a cliff.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: As a result of her traumatic past, Agrin has a noticeably hollow stare at certain parts, especially when she sees packages falling from the sky and imagines them to be bombs.
- Use Your Head: When Satellite confronts Hengov after he hears that Hengov insulted him, Hengov stays silent and only responds with a strong headbutt that gives Satellite a nosebleed.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Applies to all of the kids. It's essentially a necessity to survive.
- You Are Too Late: Hengov, tragically, in his final premonition. He dreams that Agrin and Riga will drown, wakes up crying, and runs to the riverside as well as the cliff overseeing the ocean, only to find that there's nothing he can do, and Agrin and Riga have already died.
- Satellite too. He accidentally finds Riga in the bottom of the lake but by then it's too late.