Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Rocket: Festival of Hope

Australian writer/director Kim Mordaunt's The Rocket is a little gem. He sees the film as "a rite of passage story of a boy’s journey through grief, guilt and self-doubt - set against the timely universal themes of the displacement of people by industry and the legacy of war". It certainly fits that description but in many ways it is a classic fantasy, a young boy and his family's quest to regain the life they have lost, symbolised by finding a place to plant the mother's mangoes.

It's a feel good movie with fun and humour. However, at its core is a very serious drama. It has been banned in Laos, where it is set, apparently because it deals with the dispossession of villagers from their land to build dams. The film was Australia's nomination in the Best Foreign-language category for the 2014 Oscars but didn't make it to the short list.

The two children go well beyond the cliché of stealing the show. Sitthiphon Disamoe as 10 year-old boy Ahlo romps through the film with boundless energy, displaying the rare ability to handle comic and dramatic moments with equal ease. Loungnam Kaosainam gives her 9 year-old character Kia a real edge. Her full-on attitude is as infectious as Sitthiphon's.

Former stuntperson Sumrit Warin as Ahlo's father Toma, gives a rock-solid performance that matches his chiselled countenance, saying lots with minimal dialogue. Bunsri Yindi as grandma Taitok and Alice Keohavong as the mother Mali have the kind of presence you'd expect of skilled, experienced professionals.

The other show stealer is the accomplished Thep Phongam as Purple, so named for his James Brown fixation. In Mordaunt's words, Purple is "a powerful metaphor for Lao’s history. He was full of contradictions: a deep Lao heritage but also a clone of western US influence from the Secret War when the Lao Hmong tribes people were recruited by the CIA to fight for them". He is also a great clown.

The film was produced by Sylvia Wilczynski, who is the other half of the Australian film company Red Lamp Films with Kim Mordaunt.

As befits the magnificent setting in the hills of Northern Laos, we saw the movie at the Shadow Electric outdoor cinema at the former Abbotsford convent in Melbourne. Without creating much of a spoiler, it was also appropriate that the bats made their customary dusk journey overhead before the screening.

The applause at the end indicated The Rocket's impact. Not because it could have happened, but because it should!

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