The Cinematic Loss of Childhood in Middle Eastern Films

Both Children of Heaven (1999) and Turtles Can Fly (2004) tell stories of the loss of childhood. Each narrows their focus specifically on how this childhood is lost for the children involved. For one it is through poverty, for the other it is through war. Both films deal intimately with loss on many different levels, however for this discussion it is important to focus on the key specifics. With that being said, points will be made toward the loss of innocence, of any semblance of childhood and how the filmmakers portrayed that loss to the audience.

It is vitally important to understand that the underlying meaning, in both films, is about loss and the many ways it takes place. Throughout each film this idea of loss is explored in several different fashions. In Children of Heaven poverty is at the forefront. With the loss of Zahra’s shoes within the first few minutes, the tone is set for the entire film. Quickly the audience realizes that losing a pair of shoes is a major issue for the family as we become aware of their financial struggle through the voice of the landlord.

It is also important to note that from the time the shoes are lost, Zahra’s brother Ali spends the rest of the film trying everything he can to make up for losing the shoes. He has a need and desire to replace or to earn forgiveness for losing the shoes. It causes Ali to be late for class, to not help his mother at home, and to even repeatedly turn down his friends in a game of futbol.

For Ali this is his loss, the loss of being able to act and play as a normal child. Rather he is forced to play the role of a grown up and there is no scene that illustrates this better than when his father begins to speak to a homeowner about keeping their yard. As Ali’s father can’t get the words out of his mouth it is left to Ali to step into the role as the adult and speak clearly and distinctly in order to help his father find extra work. It is truly at this point that the audience realizes that Ali is a boy, but he cannot live like a normal boy. The only time we see Ali act like a child is while his father works and he plays with a younger boy.

Now, when turning our attention to Turtles Can Fly we gain a similar type of feel for loss, however with this film it is made manifest through war. Our main character Satellite lives in a refugee camp as the leader of the camp children. Instead of playing games and living like a child Satellite is divvying up jobs and responsibility to the rest of the youth. He walks and talks like a grown man would. Arguing with the village leaders, giving children orders, carrying the weight of responsibility as he repeatedly says that he is “responsible for these kids”. These are things a parent is expected to do, not a teenage boy.

Also, let us not forget the loss and pain that Agrin must face in the film. Instead of living life as a young girl thinking about things that young girls do, she is constantly reminded of the loss of her innocence every time she looks at her son Riga. His very existence is a reminder of her rape, and the death of something inside her. The pain and hurt that this young girl goes through leads to not only her depression and death, but also the death of Riga as well.

In a rare scene after having tried to retrieve the body of Riga from the bottom of the pond, Satellite is left shivering with his knees in his chest as he lets his emotions go and allows the child to come forth and weep. This truly is the moment in the film where the audience is reminded that we are not watching adults go through these various forms of loss, we are watching children go through this.

In the end each film illustrates loss in very specific ways, however they both, as illustrated above, convey the loss of innocence and childhood. This is done specifically through poverty or through war with the loss on innocence at the forefront. The directors of each film do a superb job of conveying this message through story and visuals, as well as giving the audience a reminder that these are children. They do this by using moments where the loss becomes too much and the character’s break down and allow their natural child-like nature to show through.