Film Review – The Rocket – By Niall Curran – 24 Feb 2014
A simple, charming and heart-warming tale, set in the idyllic countryside of Laos, of a young boy, Ahlo, and his redemption.
Ahlo suffers an inauspicious start to his life, when he is born in a bamboo hut in a traditional village as the only survivor of twins. After birth, his grandmother urges his mother to kill him because one twin will be blessed and the other cursed but they cannot predict which one he will be. His mother refuses to accede to this request but they agree not to tell Ahlo’s father about the still-born twin.
A few years later and Ahlo is an irrepressible young boy who helps his family by catching fish in the river near his village and selling it at a local market. Their peaceful existence is disturbed forever when the government announces that a new hydro-electric dam is to be built and their valley will be flooded and that Ahlo and his family (father, mother and grandmother) must leave their quiet village.
Transported by the government, with their meagre possessions to their promised modern homes in the Nam Dee Relocation Village. This is only the beginning of their troubles as a succession of tragic events force them to undertake a dangerous journey that threatens their survival and leads them to the village of Chromoshavan and its annual rocket festival. Along the way, they find new companions, a young-girl Kia and her eccentric James Brown loving Uncle P who is named after the stylish purple suit which he always wears.
This film is a well-crafted and life-affirming tale with an undercurrent of serious themes including displacement of traditional villages and the ever present danger of unexploded bombs dropped by the US Airforce in decades past. It also has some very funny moments such as Uncle P dancing to his James Brown DVD or them hitching a lift on a motorbike.
It is beautifully shot amidst the stunning mountain landscape of rural Laos but it is the superb acting of Sitthiphon Disamoe, a former street kid, as Ahlo and his determination to prove that he is not cursed that is the beating heart of this film. The tender interplay between him and Loungnam Kaosainam as the little girl Kia is so wonderfully acted that you forget they are only children.
Strangely overlooked for best foreign language film at the Oscars, this film is a real gem and for those who may be disconcerted by having to read subtitles, there is no need. Dialogue is not integral to this film, the story is. And it will leave you with a warm glow and a big smile on your face.
The Rocket opens at the IFI on March 14th.