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Satu: Year of the Rabbit – Raindance Film Festival 2024

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer and Director: Joshua Trigg

Satu: Year of the Rabbit, opening at the Raindance Festival, is Joshua Trigg’s debut feature. It is a well-intentioned, if clunkily narrated and overly sentimental story set in Laos, following the journey of two young people, 17-year-old Bo, and Satu, a “temple orphan” of 7 or so. In an opening flashback. Satu’s mother (a very sympathic performance by Sonedala Sihayong) weeps as she abandons her baby outside a temple. In the way of fairy stories, she gives him a red woven bracelet and a letter explaining why she has left him.

Meanwhile Bo, a feisty young woman whose ambition is to study photojournalism in Hanoi, finally runs away from her abusive father. She takes shelter with the temple monks and befriends Satu. At just this moment, sympathetic head monk, Khuba decides to give Satu his mother’s letter to read, and Satu decides he wants to travel north to find her. Bo, who needs a project for her college application, decides to travel with Satu and record his journey. Fortunately for her, even in the most remote of villages, there is always someone who has spare camera film.

Trigg not only writes and directs but edits the film, and there was some dubious editorial choices along the way. The rabbit of the title is a placid little thing named Jeobang (‘Lucky’) that Satu lugs around in a cardboard box. Taking shelter in yet another abandoned shack, Satu suddenly screams. The camera fails to capture what he sees. But we soon learn – spoiler alert – the not-so-lucky Jeobang is dead. But how or why we’ll never know. Somehow this liberates Satu from his grief. Bo finds a radio and the pair start dancing joyfully around a blazing fire. Was this the rabbit’s funeral pyre? We aren’t told. Luckily the shack also houses a working motorbike, so off the couple go for more adventures.

Meanwhile we see Satu’s mother, labouring in a field. She’s clearly alive and well (or well-ish). She seems to have aged a couple of decades, but that’s probably what grief does to you. She sees a man collapsed by the river, takes him in and nurses him back to life. He has escaped from North Korea and in no time the pair are having meaningful conversations. But there’s an immigration patrol out looking for him. Meanwhile another patrol is out looking for the missing Bo. It’s amazing the resources Laos seems to have to chase runaway teenagers.

The music by Joshua Szweda insistently tells us what to feel. There’s another sad bit when someone, not a rabbit, dies (and in fact seems to have been dead for ages) and then tons of joyful bits where most people are reunited. Someone has sent off Bo’s photo essay to Hanoi and there is the inevitable exam-results scene when she receives her letter of acceptance.

Trigg has cut his teeth on music videos and Satu: The Year of the Rabbit has too strong a flavour of the music video to really work. There are several short scenes where a fresh narrative issue is resolved in a couple of minutes. Particularly egregious is the one in which nasty men capture the children and lock them in a barn. A quick knee to the groin by Bo, and they spring free. The baddies run after them shouting “Where are they? They run so fast!,” this despite the fact that Satu is still at lugging round the rabbit. At the same time, is given chunks of improbable dialogue. “I think you’re in pain,” he observes thoughtfully to Bo. “It’s easier to accept it than run away from it.’”Bo attributes his preternatural wisdom to his time with the monks. It’s a fair performance by youngster Itthiphone Sonepho, but the script lets him down. Vanthiva Saysana does her best with Bo, but having her appear forever swishing her freshly washed pony tail again suggests music video rather than feature film

Satu: Year of the Rabbit is screening at the Raindance Film Festivalruns from 19 – 28 June in London cinemas.

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