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The Rocket - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Rocket
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-

In a Laos village exists a superstition that says twins are bad luck -- "one is blessed, one is cursed," says the surly grandma helping her daughter-in-law as she gives birth. As soon as the second baby is coming, Grandma stops helping. Her attitude changes. Somehow, the second, stillborn baby is deemed to be the blessed one; the first, Ahlo, is immediately met with suspicion. "If he starts bringing bad luck..." the Grandma says.

Well, I guess it took several years for the real bad luck to start. Naturally, if something goes wrong, Grandma blames the boy. In turn, the rest of the village ceases onto him as a scapegoat. It all starts with the forced relocation of the entire village, due to plans to build a second, gigantic dam that will flood their area.

If you were to see this movie without knowing anything about it beforehand, it would take a while for the title, The Rocket, to become clear. Well into the film, after multiple relocations, Ahlo hears of a local annual Rocket Festival, where the winner of the best functioning rocket is awarded a large cash prize. Ahlo pins his hopes on this festival, sure that he can win it and prove that he is not unlucky.

Audiences who generally avoid foreign films, perhaps aside from merely an aversion to reading subtitles, likely find them to be on a spectrum between alien and obtuse. This film, by contrast, is Australian-made, and thus has a very Western sensibility in its broad storytelling. The beats are very conventional, the direction relatively predictable. This could easily have been a feel-good movie about poor people overcoming hardships in America. These characters just happen to live in Laos, and live largely without electricity.

Director Kim Mordaunt does sprinkle in some political commentary, taking care to show us government corruption (they don't find out their new homes have yet to be constructed until after they've been relocated), and the dangers of living in a country torn by fairly recent war. Children have to be warned away from land mines. Still, this stuff is never very pointed, and serves more as added personality to the story than as any particular point.

This is just the story of a kid who wants to do well by his family and community. Nothing new there, admittedly, but the setting at least gives it a unique flavor. Most importantly, the boy who plays Ahlo, Sitthiphon Disamoe, offers an unusually winning performance for a kid his age. He has undeniable charisma, is sweet and charming in his budding friendship with a village girl, and you just can't help but root for him.

It doesn't hurt that the scenery surrounding him is almost uniformly pretty, thanks to some lovely cinematography. This applies both to eerie shots of stone structures already flooded by the first dam, as Ahlo goes swimming; and to the above-water landscape. Virtually every wide shot is at least indirectly a reminder of the careless regard their government has for local culture: this family needs a new place to plant some roots.

And it's the Rocket Festival that affords this opportunity. The story arc may not be original, but the context is unique, and that's what makes The Rocket worth a look.

Sitthiphon Disamoe attempts to prove he's the good twin in THE ROCKEt.

Overall: B+
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