This heart-warming story tells us about a young boy Ahlo (brilliantly natural newcomer Sitthiphon Disamoe) in war-scarred Laos. He is determined to remove the guilt and uncertainty surrounding himself as he tries to make peace with his father and essentially earn his family’s respect.
This is the debut feature film from Australian-trained documentary filmmaker Kim Mordaunt. In 2007 he made a highly acclaimed documentary Bomb Harvest. In it, his team followed a bomb disposal expert who was training a new young team how to deal with unexploded bombs. These bombs were the dangerous aftermath of the USA’s secret war in Cambodia in the 1970’s and are still scattered across the landscape, where they are referred to as “sleeping tigers”. Mordaunt has said this inspired him to write The Rocket which is actually a fascinating coming-of-age story.
According to the local lore of Laos, when twins are born, one is seen as being blessed, the other as being cursed. Ahlo is the twin who may have survived the birth with his mother Mali (Alice Kelhavong) but his grandmother Taitok (highly respected local star Bunsri Yindi) is convinced he is cursed. (Here we have an extremely convincing actor, as I felt immediate dislike for this silly old biddy!) Then naturally Ahlo is blamed for everything that goes wrong, such as his mother’s death and his angry neighbours burning down his family home.
Ahlo is determined to earn his family’s respect and decides to prove he is not a curse. He decides to compete in an annual rocket building competition. The winner of this will receive a large sum of money and much respect. This is such a gorgeous inspiration to anyone who might be made to feel unworthy.
Internationally released feature films rarely come from Laos, however this may change after this extraordinarily rewarding film. The Laos landscape looks absolutely stunning with gorgeous cinematography from Andrew Commis (Mabo, 2012). It is simply a magnificent recognition of this fascinating land and its rich culture.
I was not convinced that this sort of film would really be up my alley, (I mean a boy from Laos making a rocket?!) yet I was immediately drawn in to the people and the story. Everything got me, from the natural performances of the mainly young cast, to the stunning landscape and just the story of a young person battle against negative assumptions.
Reviewed by Kirstey Whicker
Rating out of 10: 8.5
Opens at the Palace Nova Eastend cinemas on 29 August 2013