Best Of Tribeca Roundup: Hide Your Smiling Faces And The Rocket
This year at the Tribeca Film Festival I have been overwhelmed by the quality of their slate. If you've been following my coverage, you'll note that I've been writing outright raves, feeling spoiled for choice and lucky bounding from one fantastic feature to the next. And since even films that were getting mixed reviews (Mr. Jones, Whitewash, G.B.F.) delighted me, I had incredibly high hopes for The Rocket and Hide Your Smiling Faces, which were roundly being dubbed the best of the fest in press lounge debates. Funny enough, I didn't totally agree.
The Rocket is a coming-of-age story set in rural Laos, and has been cleaning up at the festival winning The Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film, and the Heineken Audience Award. It's easy to see why, as this captivating drama offers a bittersweet portrait of a jinxed young boy's hardscrabble quest for redemption.
Ahlo is a ten-year-old boy whose very existence is considered a bad omen. The valley where he and his family live is ruled by superstition, among them that twins are trouble. 'One is a blessing; the other a curse,' his grandmother gravely intones upon the birth of Ahlo's stillborn little brother. She insists Ahlo's mother murder him immediately, but instead she secretly buries the dead baby, and declares Ahlo is a twin no more. But when their village is uprooted ten years later to make way for a new hydroelectric dam, his grandmother outs his secret and declares him cursed.
From here Ahlo attempts to break his curse by finding his family a new home complete with fertile farmland. It's a journey that takes him through a landscape that is lush but deadly, seeded with slumbering bombs dropped by Americans long ago. The Rocket's charming fable involves a spunky little girl who befriends Ahlo, her James Brown worshipping uncle, and a make-your-own rocket festival that becomes Ahlo's proving grounds. It's tender and lyrical, involving moments of profound tragedy and scenes of inescapable joy. Gorgeously shot, beautifully performed by mostly nonprofessional actors, and topped off with a winsome and whip-smart protagonist, The Rocket is a total crowd-pleaser, deserving of its wild praise.
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