The plot summaries about for this film leave a lot to be desired. There is something distinctly airy-fairy about a line like “a boy who is believed to bring bad luck leads his family on a journey through Laos to find his family a new home”. Had I read that, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with The Rocket. Luckily I didn’t read one as soppy as that, and I took off on a whim to our cushy Palace Electric Cinema and saw it.
Now, I’m not saying there’s nothing soppy about this film, and that sentence is not an entirely inaccurate description of the plot. But this is a gritty, mucky and sometimes confronting story that just oozes the best and worst of humanity.
Set in the northern mountains of Laos, the story begins with the birth of that boy, Ahlo, who is saved from the tribe’s gruesome tradition of slaughtering the first-born of twins by his mother’s pleas against his grandmother’s judgement. The story cuts to him in early adolescence as his village is about to be flooded by the construction of a hydro-electric dam, and his mother is killed in a tragic accident. In the midst of his grief and confusion, he incurs the wrath of the village and the family finds themselves fleeing and beginning the search for a new home.
There is the risk with a story such as this that the inner turmoil of the boy could be overworked, bogging the story down in melodrama. But there is a great balance of pathos with movement, and the story almost plunges forward. There are moments of intense fear, beautifully crafted, and moments of sheer pleasure. This truly is the stuff of life.
The ever-present danger of unexploded weaponry, legacies from the Americans’ secret sojourn through the territory in the 1960s, is intermixed with idyllic settings and distinct twenty-first century technology like LED lighting, painting a picture of a society not entirely backward, but nonetheless held back by its history.
The success of this story really stands on the back of a brilliant performance by Sitthaphon Disamoe, whose energy is magnificent and never falters. The ten year old certainly earned the Best Actor Award he picked up at the Tribeca Film Festival.
This is genuinely one of the best Australian films I have ever seen, and if this is any indication of the direction our film industry is going, I think there is a bright future ahead.
- Film Review: The Rocket (2013) (filmblerg.com)
- Film Review: The Rocket (glamadelaide.com.au)
- 2013 MIFF Review: The Rocket and Aim High in Creation! (samayachanthaphavong.com)