A boy searching for his long-lost mother through Laos in this appealing debut from UK director Joshua Trigg

Satu: Year of the Rabbit

Source: Raindance Film Festival

‘Satu: Year of the Rabbit’

Dir/scr: Joshua Trigg. UK/India/Laos. 2024. 92mins

The Laos location adds considerable appeal to Satu – Year Of The Rabbit, the feature debut from British writer-director Joshua Trigg. This story of an abandoned child in search of his long-absent mother blossoms into a sweet ode to friendship and understanding, underpinned by the beauty of the country’s lush vegetation and lofty, mist-covered peaks. Following a world premiere at Raindance, the film has enough unpretentious appeal to secure a share of the audience who were charmed by such foreign-language titles as Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom (2019) or If Only I Could Hibernate (2023).

A sincerity that helps to balance out some of the more predictable plot developments

Trigg has previously directed a number of shorts as well as music videos and commercial campaigns, and has been working largely across Asia for the last decade. His feature debut is shot on 16mm by British cinematographer James Chegwyn, and uses a significantly local crew and non-professional actors. 

Satu begins in Dickensian mode as Dara (Sonedala Sihavong) leaves her baby on the steps of the Pha Tang Temple, believing that the monks will give the boy a better life than she ever could. Years later, the second strand of the story focuses on Bo (Vanthiva Saysana), a 17 year-old Laotian who wants to study journalism at the University of Hanoi. Entry to the course requires her to provide a story that illustrates skill as both writer and photographer. Fleeing her drunken, feckless father, she heads deeper into Laos seeking “a story worthy of a place in Hanoi”.

Inevitably, Bo arrives at the Pha Tang Temple where she meets Satu (Itthiphone Sonepho), a young boy who has become a ward of the monks and their leader Danay (Athit Sylavong). He yearns to learn more about the mother who abandoned him years earlier. It appears that Bo has found her story, and the couple head north to Muang Ngoy village to discover what happened to Dara. Satu then becomes a road movie as the duo travel by motorbike, truck and power boat on their journey, accompanied by a grey rabbit called Jeobong. Along the way, they discover common ground, gain a more nuanced understanding of the importance of family and learn important life lessons on love, death, compassion and friendship. 

Shooting on location in January 2022, cinematographer and co-producer Chegwyn captures a Laos where the swaying palms and golden temples pop with the vibrancy of a Steve Curry photograph. There is always something vivid to catch the eye, from the flutter of bright blue butterflies to morning dew drops, the slow progress of a herd of water buffalo to the massive green papaya, and the oranges and reds of the monks’ robes. The storytelling, however, has a tendency towards the simplistic and sentimental, with obstacles easily overcome, fears conquered, narrow escapes and bumbling villains left floundering around in the dust. A little more unexpected is the question mark hanging over the future of the temple, as constant floods have washed away the soil revealing unexploded bombs that surround the building.

Trigg manages to invest the central relationship with a sincerity that helps to balance out some of the more predictable plot developments. The casting of non-professional actors helps in this regard, and both lead performers bring an understated quality to their roles. Saysana instills Bo with a sense of resilience and a determination to escape her family circumstances, whilst Sonepho reveals a natural, engaging screen presence and wins us over to the quest of the earnest, wise-beyond his years Satu. Our investment in their emotional journey helps Trigg to steer the film towards a poignant conclusion. 

Production companies: Jawbreaker Films, Geronimo Boy Film, Criss Cross Content, Lao New Wave Cinema Productions

International sales: Geronimo Boy Film. josh@geronimoboyfilm.com

Producers: Lee Phongsavanh, James Chegwyn, Emanuele Costantini, Rory Rooney, Joshua Trigg

Cinematography: James Chegwyn

Editing: Nick Saunders, Joshua Trigg

Music: Joshua Szwezda

Main cast: Itthiphone Sonepho, Vanthiva Saysana, Athit Sylavong, Sonedala Sihavong