The Rocket | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Rocket

A sweet allegorical tale of a Laotian boy who turns tragedy into triumph


To make way for a new hydro-electric dam, a family in Laos is forced to seek a new home in a gorgeous but harsh mountain region. Finding arable land is tough, and the countryside still harbors damage from the war, both physical (unexploded bombs) and psychic (traumatized survivors, and perhaps even ghosts). Things go increasingly wrong for 10-year-old Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) and his kin; small wonder, since the boy is believed to be cursed.

Against the odds, Ahlo — with the help of a drunken former soldier known as Uncle Purple — decides to enter a local rocket contest, in which the winner gets a cash prize. The stakes are actually broader: It is hoped the rockets will anger the sky gods and force necessary rain upon the farming town. And for a country still struggling after war, the conversion of residual armaments into agricultural tools is both a literal and figurative swords-into-plowshares gambit.

Kim Mordaunt's sweet dramedy frequently recalls the recent stateside arthouse hit Beasts of the Southern Wild. Both feature a winsome and wise child star; emphasize communities rooted in superstition and the natural order imperiled by man-made catastrophe; and offer a lyrical mash-up of allegorical text and crowd-pleasing inspirational narrative.

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