The most striking aspect of Australian Director Kim Mordaunt’s new film The Rocket, opening in cinemas this week, is the handling of political and social issues in a way that highlights rather than diminishes hope. Mourdant was previously recognised for the 2007 documentary Bomb Harvest where he followed the insidious consequences of 30-40 years of bombing in Laos.
In this coming of age story, Ahlo, a young Laotian boy played by Sitthiphon Disamoe, is crushed beneath the dark superstition of his birth. The particular tribal group he belongs to in Laos believes twins to be unlucky and cursed. With the strain of unemployment, a profusion of landmines and their communities’ displacement, how can this little boy lead his family out of despair?
Throughout the film the family traipses a sometimes-farcical journey meeting characters also struggling to find homes and land in a country scarred by war. Laos remains the most heavily bombed country in history, which is touched on with surprising humour throughout the film. In a makeshift tent city Ahlo meets Purple, a James Brown-imitating, rice wine-swilling spiritual mentor. Ahlo forms a bond with Purple and his young orphan charge Kia and a new form of family is born.
The film is affectionate towards the struggle of the family and with a touch of magical realism the journey becomes a quest to free themselves from poverty via the annual Rocket festival, which awards lucrative prizes. If there is a smidge of advice I would give for viewing this film it’s to not be holding a glass of sparkling shiraz in the cinema when all the films explosions are going off – it stains.
The Rocket is a surprisingly endearing and heart-warming story of a young boy’s determination not to let his lot in life destroy his enthusiasm. In a gentle, humorous way we see inside a community which recognises a battler when they see one. For anyone who has experienced South East Asian hospitality this will be a reminder of the warmth and hospitality of the people.
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