If you ever need a change from the humdrum assembly line of Hollywood movies, it is always worth checking out the Academy Award Foreign Language film winners, nominees and submissions. Nearly every year there’s a gem or two to be found in the selection; in this case it’s the Australian submission (sadly not entered for competition), The Rocket. The feature debut from Kim Mordaunt is a sweet, uplifting and often shocking account of a family in Laos. Mordaunt brings his knowledge of the land (after directing documentary Bomb Harvest that looked at the remaining bombs from the US attack on Laos) along with a magic-realism tone and Spielbergian child character to create a truly enchanting film.
With a land destitute, lacking a particular age, Laos has a fascinating beauty. Due to its scarred land, it is also a place of solemnity. These are the two key aspects of Mordaunt’s film – a joyous depiction of splendour combined with heartbreak and toil. It begins with the birth of Ahlo and his still-born twin brother; the former being tagged “little balls” comically before the latter’s bereaved entrance. This juxtaposition continues throughout, making The Rocket an honest and therefore affecting film.
In a nutshell Ahlo’s twin genetics marks him as a figure of bad luck. In his young life he experiences this continually, yet he always strives to overcome it. When his family are moved out of their homes due to planned construction, the trek to a new life leads them to an unfit area of living. Ahlo then hears about a rocket-building competition that offers money to the winner. With his intellect and spirit he plans to win it, keeping his family safe and able to move them to a better property.
The simple storyline expands beyond its perimeters to explore notions of innocence, discrimination and the bonds we find in life. As a family film (with a 12A certificate), The Rocket is affirming and intelligent, worthy of comparison with some of the Capra and Disney greats. Not only does it keep your attention fixated on the determination of one boy, it reminds you of the scarcity in some people’s lives that can be overruled on the strengths of family and virtuousness.
Messages and morals aplenty, The Rocket is never preachy. It has a very clear set of values and an unquestionable elegance. The first 30 minutes are laced with stunning cinematography and a finely tuned score. As the film becomes more of a character study the visuals become less styled, thankfully reintroduced in the finale. It is a work of class, with Mordaunt making a terrific name for himself. He has the wit, humanity and wisdom to make the right sort of film, and The Rocket is already an excellent example of that.