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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey

IN a strong week for home en­ter­tain­ment re­leases, it would be easy to miss two of the bet­ter in­de­pen­dent movies that emerged last year. The first, The Rocket (M, Cu­ri­ous, 79min, $29.99) is a small Aus­tralian gem filmed in Laos and Thai­land, and spo­ken in Lao. It may not jump off the shelf but a raft of au­di­ence prizes at film fes­ti­vals around the world — and not merely the niche fes­ti­val prizes — speak to its achieve­ment.

Di­rec­tor Kim Mor­daunt and his part­ner, pro­ducer Sylvia Wil­czyn­ski, have crafted a beau­ti­ful lit­tle fa­ble about the dis­pos­ses­sion of a Laos fam­ily and its jour­ney to a new life, led by the 10-year-old Ahlo (Sit­thiphon Disamoe).

This is a sim­ple of­fer­ing from an­other world that draws on Mor­daunt’s ca­reer as a doc­u­men­tary film­maker to bring to­gether a win­ning, and seem­ingly au­then­tic, mix of the po­lit­i­cal, his­tor­i­cal, sen­ti­mal and hu­mor­ous.

Not ev­ery­thing the film is try­ing to say hangs to­gether but the en­ter­tain­ing lead per­for­mances and an up­lift­ing con­clu­sion pull the viewer through.

At the re­cent AACTA Awards, The Rocket was the sec­ond most nom­i­nated film be­hind The Great Gatsby and was ul­ti­mately swamped by Baz Luhrmann’s film. The Rocket won’t po­larise view­ers as dis­tinctly.

Ryan Coogler’s de­but fea­ture film, Fruit­vale Sta­tion (M, Road­show, 82min, $39.95), was a dar­ling of the US in­de­pen­dent sec­tor last year and, on the face of it, one may ask why.

This is an­other tale of a young black man com­ing to grief at the hands of a bru­tal author­ity.

But Fruit­vale Sta­tion is based on a true story, re-cre­at­ing the fi­nal day in the life of Os­car Grant III, a 22-year-old who was cel­e­brat­ing the new year with friends in San Fran­cisco.

While go­ing home on a train, he was baited in an in­nocu­ous fight and de­tained by po­lice at the Fruit­vale sta­tion in Oak­land, where he was shot by a pan­icked tran­sit cop.

A con­fronting clip show­ing his fi­nal mo­ments pre­cedes the film and seems at odds with the story that fol­lows, a por­trayal of a busy day for a largely po­lite and charis­matic kid who, like so many young black men, has done prison time.

Coogler, a young film stu­dent at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, sug­gested to For­est Whi­taker they drama­tise Os­car’s fi­nal day, which they have done with the sort of tem­pered hand you may not ex­pect from a new film grad­u­ate. Os­car ticks off his jobs and re­flects on a past sell­ing mar­i­juana. He’s at a cross­roads and about to make the “right” de­ci­sion. He frus­trates his girl­friend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and mother Wanda (Oc­tavia Spencer), yet you can see why they adore him.

Michael B. Jordan (who played Wal­lace in The Wire, all those year ago), im­bues Os­car with a lik­a­bil­ity that means the film isn’t full of the anger and heat it might have con­tained. The ques­tions raised are largely rhetor­i­cal. Coogler’s eye is sub­tle and, of course, the film paints the pro­tag­o­nist pos­i­tively but not in the way of ha­giog­ra­phy. We see Os­car’s po­ten­tial is enor­mous and his death is fu­tile. A heart­break­ing fi­nal shot makes cer­tain of that.

Twit­ter: @michael­bodey

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