How can a king's wealth be measured? In golden coins, in the love of his subjects or in the richness of his heart? What makes a king the powerful ruler that he is? Knowledge is the answer. Yet, power is a fleeting state of mind, especially since there are no valuable possessions to perfect one's realm. Kingdoms of broken hearts lie in-between war and peace, in nameless strips surrounded by barbed wire, machine guns and bombs. And among maimed limbs and souls, turtles can fly as director Bahman Ghobadi is trying to make us believe.
Even little kings like Satellite, a 13-year-old boy (Soran Ebrahim) from a refugee camp near the Turkish border in Kurdish Iraq, know that respect comes from information. So he makes people in the camp and the neighbouring villages, happy by installing satellite dishes meant to bring news on the American-Iraqi war. When not busy hassling, Satellite has the boys from the village gather landmines that he sells for them. One day, he meets the sad gaze of Agrin, who travels with her armless brother and a blind toddler she carries on her back. Love in the time of war happens too, so the infatuated Satellite goes to great trouble to win the heart of the girl; for all she knows, Agrin has a big, black hole in the place of her heart. Soon, king Satellite will not only lose his object of affection but his illusory kingdom as well.
This is a movie dedicated to all war casualties, children mainly, whose wounds go deeper than meets the eye and who are broken beyond repair. Shame, guilt, despair, blood are daily routine for children who find themselves fatherless, lost, trapped between worlds and nowhere in particular. Like turtles, they carry the burden of their own fate upon their shoulders, proofs of their disgrace and bleeding hearts, reminders of the atrocities they have to live with. Like turtles, they migrate endlessly, trying not to face their truths and lies, hidden from the light, little candles flickering in the darkness. Two survivors, Hengoa, an armless teenager, and Agrin, his sister, who was raped by soldiers during the attack on her village, carry each their open wound: the boy uses his mouth to disassemble mines and his head to fight back, whereas Agrin hates the blind toddler she has been carrying upon her back, a constant reminder of her disgrace. Agrin hurts the little boy much to her brother's disapproval who wants to keep him at any cost. He will shortly learn that any kind gesture comes at an excruciating price.
It is hard to believe that turtles will eventually fly, given their broken wings and spirit and since there seems to be no bright future for such creatures of despair. The director shows no mercy, except for Satellite's broken foot; however, it is not about his own hope in the better things that are to come, it is rather the viewers' hope in the last shred of humanity. Also, Mr. Ghobadi takes no side as far as the war is concerned, neither expressing any hope in the American intervention nor any faith in Sadam's ruling. His movie is not about the adults shaping the face of the world, but about the children caught in their battle for power. There is some magical touch in the way the movie unravels, a sort of softness that wraps around the frailty of the broken bodies and souls. It is a touching movie that speaks of useless wars and their casualties, about the way wars and their atrocities mould the soul, flesh and spirit of those caught up in their melee.