“The Rocket”: An Unlucky Kid, a Large Explosive, James Brown, a Journey

The Rocket Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt's previous film was the documentary Bomb Harvest, about an Aussie bomb disposal specialist combing through the perennially war-ravaged Laotian countryside and trying to keep undetonated explosives out of children's hands. Arguably that project continues with or at least informs The Rocket, Mordaunt's fictional tale of a young Laotian boy (Sitthiphon Disamoe), born under a bad sign according to his nasty nagging grandmother (Bunsri Yindi), who comes of age by way of repurposing incendiary devices. To live down the burden of being believed to have cursed his variously impoverished and unlucky family, our 10-year-old hero takes an active interest in a festival contest whose participants “fire rockets into the sky to ask for rain.” In this he has good counsel from a sagely eccentric nomad (Thep Phongam), who dresses and acts like James Brown. About that contest: Drought being an issue is somewhat ironic, what with the boy's family having been indifferently informed by their government that a dam will soon inundate their village, then relocated to a new home which — minor technicality — hasn't yet been built. This also affords Mordaunt an arresting if contrived sequence in which we see the curious boy dwarfed by the enormous dam, then swimming open-eyed among submerged cultural relics its presence already has eradicated. In general, the story's sentimentalism is balanced by attentively observed, place-specific details — and by the director's obvious rapport with his alert young star.

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