A gripping feature debut that explores a current social issue—slave labourers on board fishing vessels in Southeast Asia—that is both urgent and disturbing.
Dir. Rodd Rathjen
2019 | Australia | Drama | 93 mins | Thai & Khmer
Not rated (likely to be at least NC16 for violence and some disturbing scenes)
Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros
Plot: 14-year-old Chakra is sold as a slave labourer to the captain of a Thai fishing vessel. The captain’s rule on board is cruel and arbitrary.
Awards: Won Prize of the Ecumenical Jury; Nom. for Best First Feature Award (Berlin)
International Sales: Charades
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
This title came into my radar when the international sales agent contacted me in hopes that I might consider screening it in Singapore. It’s pretty good for a debut feature, written and directed by Rodd Rathjen whose film has been selected as Australia’s 2020 Oscar submission for Best International Feature.
Buoyancy is a gripping drama that explores a current social issue that not many are aware of—slave labourers who are forced on board Thai fishing vessels that are run by armed gangster-like criminals. Some are as young as teenagers who are condemned to a hard life on the seas for years, having only plain rice as a daily meal.
Most are from poorer communities in Cambodia and Myanmar hoping to seek a breadwinning job outside of their hometown, but their fates are sealed once they are trapped onboard. Any attempt at escaping or mutiny will be met by death by brutal violence.
Buoyancy tells us the harrowing stories of these slaves through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy who has been sold to one of these vessels. Through his dreadful experiences, we witness a boy become a man by absolute necessity, a dark coming-of-age movie if you will.
Rathjen’s filmmaking style is also raw and gritty, almost documentary-like that the picture feels both urgent and disturbing. And it is indeed urgent as a Google search reveals numerous articles from 2019 alone about seafood slavery around the world. As a lover of seafood, this is extremely disconcerting to me.