Current Issue #487

Film Review: Buoyancy

Film Review: Buoyancy

Victorian College of the Arts graduate Rodd Rathjen’s debut feature is a starkly intense drama that hints at social commentary but is mostly about the characters and the cast of unfamiliar actors, especially remarkable first-timer Sarm Heng.

Shot in Cambodia, with dialogue in Khmer and Thai, this is still an Australian movie, make no mistake, and one of the very best of the year so far.

Heng plays Chakra, a 14-year-old who works hard in rural rice fields with his family and longs for a better, less difficult life (as teenagers across the world usually do), something that greatly annoys his stern dad (Sareoun Sopheara making a big impression in a small role). Without telling his family, Chakra travels to Thailand thinking that factory work awaits him and joins forces with the older Kea (Mony Ros), but the pair instead discover that they’ve been sold as slaves on a shipping vessel ruled over by the formidable Rom Ran (actor, director and stuntman Thanawut Kasro).

With an imprisoned crew of Cambodians and Burmese men all forced to work up to 22 hours a day, and thrown overboard if they’re too exhausted or simply defiant, Chakra tries not to draw attention to himself, but is soon targeted by Ran, who delights in horribly and tauntingly abusing the kid. Chakra fears he’s losing his mind, until he realises that he must become as inhuman as his tormentor. A familiar story, but very powerful here due to the performances and the fact that Chakra could easily become fish food in mere moments.

Drawn from facts collected by Rathjen, who was appalled at what he discovered, this could have striven for point-scoring political grandstanding, but fortunately opts to make it all about the people and the gripping psychological drama. And Heng, a complete unknown, is very strong here, as he veers from adolescent pouting and quiet rebellion, to sheer, mortal terror, and stands up to Ran, who’s almost impressed by the kid’s bravery. And buoyancy.

Buoyancy (M) is in cinemas now

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