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Film directors use a variety of techniques to build the themes of their films. One of the techniques is the use of cinematic elements of film that have real-life interpretations. In the film Turtles Can Fly, directed by Bahman Ghobadi cinematic elements of camera angles, unsteady shots, and real children actors are used to communicate themes of children’s desperation and confusion in war. To confirm the theme, the children escape through suicide in the 2004 film.
Film setting and characters
The film takes place in an Iraqi orphan community, during the fall of Saddam Hussein. It is notable that this film is the first to be produced in Iraq after the fall of Hussein. The main character is Satellite, a boy who manages and takes care of the other orphans, and whose main source of income is from unearthing landmines and reselling them. In the first scene of the movie, apart from the introduction, three new orphans arrive in their community; a girl named Agrin, a baby, and a boy with no arms, named Hengov.
At first Satellite seems to welcome them but he feels that his position is being usurped when the boy with no arms tries to change the way the children harvest mines. Although Satellite does not know it, Hengov has supernatural abilities to tell the future. Instead of sleeping at night, Hengov receives visions. Sattelite realizes Hengov’s importance to the community when Hengov successfully predicts a dangerous explosion, saving nearly all the children.
More information about the characters
Baby Agrin is a product of a rape perpetrated against Hengov by a soldier. She repeatedly attempts to abandon this baby because she feels that he is the only reason they have to stay in Iraq, as the baby could certainly not make it through the journey out of the country. Hengov constantly restores a sense of duty in raising the baby. By the end of the film, Agrin has murdered the child by drowning him in a pond, and commits suicide by jumping off a cliff.
The image of a turtle is shown around this part of the movie, appearing to fly as it swims under water, matching the title Turtles Can Fly. This is to suggest that the children escaped the situation in death, drowning in the pond and jumping off the cliff. They, therefore, “fly” away from the situation all together. Although they were more like turtles on land, relatively immobile, and only able to shield themselves, they change the situation they are in.
In a few parts of the movie the camera shifts to wobbly handheld shots that are low to the ground. In effect this is to take the baby’s point of view communicating a theme of confusion, and also the helplessness of the situation because almost all the characters in the film are young children. From roughly the 31 minute mark to 32 minute mark, it is apparent that the children are helpless and they lack a grown-up to guide them.
The baby is jogging around in the field filled with a lot of junk, where Agrin and Hengov know there will be an explosion. The baby’s eyes roll around in his head as he calls out for his father, it is unclear whether he means Hengov, but it is made clear that he doesn’t even know his own father.
This small episode rests with him finding Agrin huddled in front of some tubes. It appears her heart is beating loudly, she might be worried for the other children, with the impending explosion, or she might be thinking of placing this baby in the explosion so that the baby can cease being a burden.
Analysis of use of cinematic elements
Another example of the cinematic element of camera angles being used to demonstrate the theme of helplessness in the children occurs from 57 minutes to 58 minutes in the film. In this scene, Hengov experiences a flashback of the time when Agrin was raped by soldiers. It appears as though Hengov is reliving this flashback because Agrin is thinking about it, because she contemplates suicide by the cliff.
Again the camera is very low and the shots are choppy, implying some urgency to the events. The theme of helplessness is exaggerated by the way the children fill normal space in the screen, while the adult soldiers fully extend the screen. This makes the soldiers appear bigger than they actually are relative to the children.
The cinematic element of camera angles shows us how Sattelite’s sense of hope fades as the movie continues. In contrast to this, as the movie begins, Satellite is pictured in a different way. He is often shot from below. That is, the camera looks up to him. This is used to bring out the sense of hope that the other children in the orphanage have in him. He is the only person guiding the children, and keeping them alive. When we first meet Satellite at around 3 minutes and thirty seconds he is at the top of the hill, up on a pole fixing a receiver.
Agrin, who is, otherwise, devoid of hope has to squint and shield her eyes from the sky in the direction of Sattelite. At 28 minutes, Satellite is sitting on top of the nozzle of a tank as he tries to give orders to the rest of the community. After they receive news from Hengov, he is slowly and awkwardly lowered off camera. This is to demonstrate that his power has been taken over.
From this point on, Sattelite is shot at the level of all the other children. He is no longer the hope of the children, until in the end, when his leg is destroyed by a land mine he is shot from above. He loses the energy from the situation, and becomes hopeless as he is. The movie ends with a scene where Satellites struggles with the Americans present, a day they looked forward to. He is however left hopeless as the movie ends.
Personally I thought this film was well done, it was rough, it went for the heart, and tackled some important issues. Some people have argued that the movie has unnecessary criticism for American occupation of Iraq. I however, do not feel that this is true since nothing much changes in the lives of the children in the end. It is true that the characters were looking forward to the Americans coming, but once they arrived, nothing much changed.