BIFF: The Rocket

Award-winning Australian feature to play at BIFF

Josh Gross | Boulder Weekly

Superstitions of rural Laos lay the groundwork for this award-winning film from Australian director Kim Mordaunt.

Its central character is Ahlo, a young boy whose birth preceded that of his stillborn twin.

According to the traditions of his tribe, twins carry both a blessing and curse, one assigned to each child. Ahlo’s grandmother is convinced he is the cursed one, a belief seemingly backed up by a series of tragedies faced by the village and Ahlo’s family, including the destruction of their village by the communist government flooding the valley it occupies.

In order to convince a new village to let his family settle there, Ahlo decides he needs to win an amateur rocketry competition, the goal of which is to shoot rockets at the sky gods to convince them to send some rain and end a drought. But since Ahlo is cursed, the only person who will help him is a fellow outcast, a James Brown-obsessed drunk who collaborated with the Americans as a child soldier in Vietnam and never removes his bright purple suit.

The Rocket is beautifully filmed, depicting an almost mythical landscape full of sunken Buddhas, dams the size of fortresses and half-buried unexploded munitions that can level a village around every corner, all of it woven into lush forests and mountains full of ritual and history.

But just as striking as its imagery is the acting from The Rocket’s young stars, Sitthipon Disamoe and Loungnam Kaosainam, both acting for the first time, and both delivering captivatingly nuanced performances rarely seen from child actors.

The Rocket is all at once an odyssey, a coming-of-age drama and a look inside a culture Americans have mostly only seen while dropping bombs on it.

Amongst the many honors it has received so far are Best Narrative Feature, Best Actor and the Audience Award from the Tribeca Film Festival, Best Debut Film from the Berlin International Film Festival and the Best Original Screenplay from the Australian Film Institute.