Drawing upon the harsh realities of modern slavery in South East Asia, Australian director Todd Rathjen offers up an authentic observation of the exploitative worldwide fishing trade in Thailand. Deplorable work conditions, human degradation and brutal treatment unfold through a fictional account of the industry’s illegal human trafficking from Burma and Cambodia.
The plot follows Chakra (Sarm Heng), a 14-year-old Cambodian boy. His monotonous, impoverished existence working with his family in the rice fields spurs him to find other money-making schemes. The teenager secretly leaves and heads somewhat haphazardly to Thailand for a well-paid factory position. Promises turn to dust as he ends up being held captive working on a fishing trawler instead, under the rather malicious captain Rom Ran (Thanawut Kasro). Heng appears in a first-time acting role, with minimal dialogue. His inexperience coveys both innocence and a raw simplicity that is wonderfully malleable to the role as he toughens up and retaliates under the atrocious conditions he endures.
The film mostly shot at sea on the rustic fishing trawler, the distant horizon creates a sense of lonely captivity. The lingering cinematography from Micheal Latham intensifies the claustrophobic living and working conditions. Hours spent repetitively net-casting and fish-bashing pair up with cramped sleeping conditions and limited kinship. Natural atmospheric sounds complement the story, with a restricted use of music that only appears when it feels an absolutely necessary tool.
Weak and malnourished, workers are eager to please and worn down by relentless bullying, torture and murder. Rathjen captures the inevitable hierarchy of henchmen and slaves perfectly when Chakra’s ultimate crescendo of rage and revenge leads to an enthralling finale. The director uses the final scene to add a touch of well-placed relief and tear-jerking sentimentality.
Bouyancy shines an unyielding spotlight upon the dark and harrowing world of human trafficking. In this ugly world of slavery our hearts are lifted, however momentarily, by the beauty of escape and eventual salvation.
Buoyancy does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
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