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Thursday, May 16, 2013

THE ROCKET: Tribeca Film Festival Review 2013

Sitthiphon Dittamoe as Ahlo
Photo credit: Tom Greenwood
2013, 96 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Sweeping the Tribeca Film Festival this year, The Rocket won the Best Narrative Feature, Audience Award, and the Best Actor awards, and rightfully so.  This film was directed by Kim Mordaunt and was a big hit at the 2013 Berlinale.  I really hope a distributor picks this movie up, as I believe it has the potential to be as big a hit as Beasts of the Southern Wild was last year.  It has everything anyone could ever want in a movie: memorable characters, dazzling cinematography, a heartwarming story, and quite possibly the greatest child performance that I have ever seen.

The Rocket follows a young Laotian boy, Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe), who from birth was considered to be a carrier of bad luck.  Ahlo must move out of his home with his family when a company comes in to build a dam that will flood his village and in a refugee camp, he makes two new friends who join Ahlo and his family on the journey to find a new home.  Along the way, Ahlo finds out about a rocket competition and decides to compete to try to bring a better life to his family.

Kim Mordaunt's achievement with this film is monumental.  He combines a wonderful family story with a powerful regional awareness, as the war-torn country's history plays a large role in the story.  Mordaunt manages to keep a perfect balance between creating a portrait of a scarred country and a portrait of a boy growing up in this country.  Mordaunt makes The Rocket feel alive in ways that few films are.  He infuses the film with a distinct cultural voice and reverence for the magnificent country that he filmed his movie in.

Sitthiphon Disamoe's performance as Ahlo is astounding and deserving of the Tribeca Film Festival's Best Actor award.  While Disamoe is extremely young, like Beasts of the Southern Wild's Oscar-nominee Quvenzhan√© Wallis, he performs with a wiseness way beyond his years.  He gives the film its soul and personality and his wide-eyed innocence make him one of the most likable actors to appear in any film in recent memory.  This is a performance that goes beyond acting.  

The cinematography for this film is also stunning.  Shot using the natural landscape to full effect, the cinematography evokes a feeling of haunted sadness, a land torn apart by turmoil, full of ghosts and horror, calmed by time.  The usage of bright colors evokes a sense of magic.

Finally, we arrive at the story.  While The Rocket follows few new story beats, it is one of the most compelling and smartly-written stories in ages because it tells a story rich with cultural and historical awareness and contains a protagonist that only the hardest-hearted wouldn't want to root for.  It is a masterful balancing act and the film comes together at the end to create a beautiful conclusion that left me with tears streaming down my face.

Overall, The Rocket is a gem, a film that should be remembered in years to come and should be shared by parents with their (slightly older) children.  It is an inspiring story of love, perseverance, and friendship set against an exotic backdrop.  In short, this is a small masterpiece and one of the best films I have had the pleasure to have seen thus far in 2013.


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