The Rocket is an Australian production about the coming of age story of Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) a young boy in Laos. Born a twin, and believed to be bad luck, Ahlo must contend with his grandmother Taitok’s (Bunsri Yindi) disparaging comments towards him, and his father’s grief following the death of Ahlo’s mother Mali (Alice Keohavong). The family is forcibly relocated from their home by the government, and while in a makeshift shanty town, Ahlo befriends a family duo of fellow outcasts, the young Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and her uncle “Purple” (Suthep Po-ngam), an alcoholic former soldier and present day James Brown enthusiast. In a land still dotted with live explosives from war, Ahlo is determined to build a rocket of his own for entry in a contest at the local Rocket Festival. Ahlo is convinced that a win will provide enough money for his family to buy land and will once and for all rid him of the curse that has plagued him his whole life.
Despite the familiar characters and simple story of The Rocket, I found myself wholly intrigued by Ahlo’s journey from village pariah to local savior. For someone so young, Sitthiphon Disamoe carries the weight of a child who has been feared and distrusted very well. Ahlo’s relationship with Kia and Purple is the heart of the story, and a further bastion of the old adage “misery loves company.” Suthep Po-ngam plays Purple with just the right amount of bumbling fool, and wise old sage as he mentors Ahlo in the ways of rocket building in the way only a former soldier can. Purple has never left the battlefields, and at the film’s close he is seen waving goodbye to Ahlo from the back of a wagon filled with the old rockets that are still being collected from the Laotian landscape. It seems an obvious metaphor, but so much of these visual cues are used to great effect throughout the film. There is one haunting sequence in which we get a glimpse of just how badly scarred this region is from war. But through it, Ahlo confronts his worst fears and triumphs over them. The experience inspires the name he gives to his rocket just before it launches: The Bat.
I enjoyed The Rocket, and it’s use of a beautiful landscape, culture, and people that are not commonly seen in cinema. The story is familiar, but the performances of each character add nuance and dimension to what is ultimately a timeless tale.
The Rocket opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Language: Laotian with English subtitles.