This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia
By Maya Borom
The Rocket, by director Kim Mordaunt (Bomb Harvest) is a Lao-Australian feature film that tells the story of one child’s battle to overcome Lao superstitions that question his existence. Carefully woven into this tale is also the story of the country of Laos, the most bombed place on the planet and a place where the government is displacing people for the sake of profit.
Ahlo’s childhood is filled with accusations of him being the harbinger of bad luck. These are fuelled by his grandmother but sheltered from him by his mother. After an unfortunate series of events, Ahlo must try to prove that he is capable of bringing good luck to his family and wants to enter a rocket festival so that he can win enough money to enable his family to purchase a house and land.
Along the way, Ahlo is introduced to Uncle Purple, an outcast in the makeshift village that has no running water or electricity. Entire villages have been relocated by the Lao government, who appear to be working in conjunction with an Australian-Lao venture to dam rural Laos and on-sell the electricity to Thailand and China. Promises of new houses and remuneration for their old one’s are increasingly looking unlikely to materialise; the displaced communities are forced to live in conditions akin to the Vietnam war era concentration camps that were opened in Laos during the war, in which thousands of people perished.
During the Vietnam war, Laos was subjected to bombing by the allies in an attempt to destroy the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail. As a result thousands of unexploded ordinance litter the countryside.These rusted carcases litter Laos and are a poignant reminder of the war, long forgotten by the Allies but ever-present in Lao society. Casualties and loss of limbs from exploding bombs still occur some 40 years after the war and Mordaunt cleverly weaves this narrative into the film, with their threat never far away. Uncle Purple’s character also alludes to the fact that the CIA trained Hmong fighters as part of their war effort against Vietnam, who are now hunted and viewed as outsiders in mainstream communist Laos. The film manages to incorporate all of these elements wonderfully and with dignity.
Mordaunt has remained faithful to the history of the country and indeed it’s people; this shows in the expert performances by the Lao cast. The Rocket shines a light onto human rights issues in Laos that until now, have found very little traction in mainstream cinema, let alone in the media. It’s great film that leaves a lasting impression and one that hopefully encourages people to seek out more information about this landlocked country and it’s tragic past.