Film Reviews


By • Jan 28th, 2014 •

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From a sky that rained 18 million bombs, the people of a land with no international voice scream back at the clouds and demand rain at the annual rocket festival. At one festival is a boy who sets out to prove himself and find refuge for his family and friends – a band of displaced people escaping a great flood. Traipsing through a jungle terrain scattered with explosives and a veil of bad luck, young Ahlo attempts to dispel his omen and redeem his family’s hopes.

The movie unfolds with a woman giving birth in a bare hut to twins; one which is stillborn. The would-be grandmother’s superstition condemns the surviving child to be left for dead, as it will otherwise bring great misfortune to the village. At the behest of the new mother, it is with secrecy that the birth of ill fortune is kept, and the baby grows up under the ever-watchful, disdainful gaze of grandma.

The country is Laos and its indigenous people continue their ancient ways in the face of an industrial revolution. In the village the inhabitants are advised of their relocation due to the eventual flooding of the valley to build a dam. This, and an ensuing catastrophic event, are conceived by the grandmother as evils brought about by her grandson as she laments the day he was born. The family treks to the promised land of electricity and running water only to find nothing more than an un-gated “detention zone” similar to what the Cuban boat people were initially assigned to in America in SCARFACE.

Here is where the young boy’s mischievousness and personality creates chaos and forms a bond of friendship with a young girl, Kia, and her eccentric Uncle Purple. A stirring of pandemonium results in the two families forging a union, seeking safe passage from certain death as they hightail it out of there via the only mode of transport likely not to be inspected by anyone wishing to keep their life and limbs intact. Essentially, in search of a new home, they are a people without a country. Along their quest, the direness of the situation is balanced with Laos humor and a history of the country’s legacy of war as well as the direction that industrialization is taking the people and the land. It’s done in an entertaining way that does not dilute the harsh reality, nor is it lecture-driven.

The rocket festival ends the dry season with a competition for the best rocket, for which there will be a cash prize. The explosives are mined from discarded U.S. bombs and brazen individuals mount their rockets on giant ladders, literally throwing caution to the wind, and shoot ’em up to the clouds. This being an ancient Buddhist festival, it is now an ironic event considering Laos’ status as the world’s most bombed country. Ahlo attempts to build a rocket and launch it. Even here, children are forbidden to launch what amounts to highly unpredictable homemade bombs with wings.

Director Kim Mordaunt trekked the Laos countryside in his documentary BOMB HARVEST to depict the perils of simply taking a walk or farming in a country where over seventeen and a half million bombs still exist that routinely maim and kill children and adults. From there he wrote this story about the heart and resilience of a people burdened with the remnants of a western war faced with another imposing threat – industrialization – as seen through the eyes of a non-Anglican protagonist.

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