Kim Mordaunt / Australia/Thailand/Laos / 2013 / 96 mins
There are plenty of films around that set out – to borrow from Shaun Ryder – to twist your melon, so it’s a pleasant change every now and again to come across a picture like The Rocket; a simple tale, beautifully told by a filmmaker who knows their craft.
10 year old Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) is a self-reliant, live-wire living in the highlands of Laos with his parents and Grandmother. He is also a surviving twin, a fact that means he is considered cursed. The death of his mother and the forced relocation from their village due to the building of a dam seems to confirm his bad penny status. On his journey he meets fellow outsiders the feisty Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and her Uncle Purple (Thep Phongami) so named for the garish suit he wears in tribute to James Brown.
Kim Mourdant has a great eye for striking images and whilst his film is full of beautiful moments (a swim through a sunken village, collecting lilac flowers from the trees) it never strays into travelogue territory. There are mountains and forests and dusty roads on display but they’re not for decoration, they show the hard slog of travel when you’ve no money and no home.
At the heart of the film is the committed performance from Disamoe. Energetic, determined and thoughtful Ahlo is an easy character to fall for. He gets terrific support, not just from Thai comic Phongami but also from Bunsri Yindi as his sharp tongued Grandmother, and the burgeoning relationship between Kia and Ahlo is touchingly played by the two children.
By the time the film reaches its finale at the rocket competition – a health and safety free homemade fireworks event with a prize that could change their fortunes – you’d have a hard heart not to be rooting for Alho to succeed – it’s like Rocky with gunpowder. The Rocket is an almost old fashioned film about family, friendship and overcoming obstacles which is probably what makes it so enjoyable. Smart cynicism can be fun, but childlike hope and the ties that bind still have charms of their own.