20th September 2020

Buoyancy Is Not An Easy Film To Watch

Buoyancy(in Khmer, Thai languages)

Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros, Saichia Wongwirot, Yothin Udomsanti, Chan Visal, Chheung Vakhim, Sareoun Sopheara

Directed  & Written by Rodd Rathjen

Rating: ***

This Australian film about enforced  child labour  on Thai fishing trawlers where  thousands of  underage  boys are  kept  as slaves, is  so raw brutal and  unredeemed by cinematic  optimism, that  you may just wonder why we need to suffer with the boys as they are put through the most inhuman bestial  working  conditions.

One hears  of children being tortured and made to work in the cities  , with practically no food or sleep. But to watch  the  dehumanization  of  14-year  old  Chakra(non-professional actor Sarm Heng) left me with a  sick feeling at  the core of my stomach, as  it is meant to. This is  probably the most stark and real film on child labour that  I’ve seen.

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It is hard and unforgiving  in its vision and  it doesn’t spare us  any of  the details of Chakra and his  co-workers’  unspeakable  suffering  including being  packed into  suffocating sleeping  spaces like sardines  in a can with  boys  moaning and masturbating themselves to  2 hours of sleep before they are  pulled awake to resume  work.

The  prospect of no escape from the mid-ocean horror(if the boys rebel  or fall ill, they are simply thrown into the water) is so imminent and inescapable that I  wanted  to give  up on  the  film. But then there is  an unexpected payoff with our  teen hero turning into a trawler terminator.

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I wasn’t very convinced by  Chakra’s  transformation into a  bloodthirsty  avenger. But I did  empathize with the sense  of  gloomy aggression that  climbs  out of  the  plot and finally envelopes it.

Buoyancy is  not an easy  film to watch. It is directed with the directness of a homemade  film with actors who are  not actors. Their closeness to the ghastly rites of dehumanization  is so palpable as  to  seem  overpowering at times. At  the same time I wondered  what   is the  purpose  of   true art. Is it not to shake us out of our  middleclass placidity?

This film does a good job of it.But be  warned . Do not  switch to on this saga  of  the desperation of  empty stomachs with  a  full stomach.

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