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
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 starkest and real film on child labour that I’ve seen.
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.
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 middle-class 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.