It’s easy for us to view slavery as a horrible crime of centuries past. Buoyancy shows us the naivety of that outlook, and seeks to shake us out of that sense of complacency.
Seeking a chance to make a more profitable life than his rural Cambodian village offers him, 14 year old Chakra (Sarm Heng) hires a people smuggler to smuggle him across the border so he can earn cash working in a factory. Instead he finds himself sold into slavery on board a Thai fishing boat, as the sadistic captain (Thanawut Kasro) uses casual brutality to enforce his will.
This is grim viewing. Seeing a young man broken down, dehumanised by the grinding work and cruelty of his capturers, can not possibly be anything else. Yet this is presented with such a beautiful style, and clarity of purpose, that it leaves no doubt that this is a finely crafted film.
With minimal dialogue and little on screen gore, director Rodd Rathjen leads us on a harrowing journey through modern day slavery. That lack of gore does little to blunt the impact of the violence, nor the continuous anxiety as they witness Chakra’s wretched situation at the hands of a barbaric fishing captain. The casual and matter of fact nature of that brutality is shocking, but worse still is wondering how it will effect Chakra, and what he will become to survive, as the captain sees a reflection of himself in the young slave.
Sarm Heng is phenomenal as the young Chakra, bringing a wealth of emotions to the role with very little spoken dialogue. Indeed, as the film goes on, his dialogue lessens, but the power of his performance increases. There’s an undeniable intensity about his performance, one that speaks of sorrow, rage, and a determination as he struggles to survive. Similarly Thanawut Kasro gives a malevolent performance without much need for posturing speeches. A few words, and a callous smile is often all that’s needed, as he lets horrific violence speak of Rom Ran’s character. Yet it is that relationship that Chakra and Rom Ran form that’s the drive of Buoyancy, as each sees a reflection of themselves in the other.
Buoyancy is a hard film to recommend, due to the harsh content, but missing it would be the greater crime. A powerful debut that takes a chilling look at exploitation, Buoyancy demands to be seen.