Rodd Rajthen’s debut feature Buoyancy has Chakra (Sarm Heng), as its protagonist. He’s a fourteen year old boy whose home life is so dire that his only choice to migrate, illegally, to Thailand for work. This travel takes place at nighttime where he, along with a fellow Khmer, Kea (Mony Ros), have to switch from van to truck. They all have to get into that truck like sardines. Kea eventually sees these conditions as red flags, but he sees those flags too late.
Chakra and Kea came to Thailand since their peers bragged about money making factory jobs, but they ended up on a fishing vessel as slaves. There are moments where the film lets its audience understand the ramifications of such slavery. It shows shots of that ship crossing the Gulf of Thailand. But it shows most of the film through Chakra and Kea. As part of their work, they have to separate the big fish from the small fish from the trash, doing so while losing ties with people back home.
Buoyancy oscillates seamlessly between Chakra’s perspective and a more omniscient view. As the youngest slave in the ship, he gets to see how others try to escape their fates and the futility of doing so. There is a hope here that he’s learning something either from those escapees or from his captors (Thanawut Ketsaro and Saicha Wongwirot). Although of course, cruelty can teach the wrong lessons too. It then pulls back to show a colorful world that isn’t too beautiful, or a dark, starry night.
Chakra and Kea are two of two hundred thousand men working as slaves in Southeast Asia’s fishing industry. Buoyancy makes us feel the isolation that both characters face, but there are moments when the outside lurks in. The nets catch a lot of things, including a bone that Chakra picks out from the pile of fish. The film shows us, through Chakra’s face, the horrific possibility that the bone is human. And obviously, that that bone might have belonged to someone just like him.
Chakra, in some ways, is the best and worst person to survive his situation. He starts out as a more pliable person. He doesn’t know any better but to, in a twisted way, please the people who own him. Kea and the older slaves comment on this and resent him for it, but there’ a depth to him that others don’t see at first. We expect his character to evolve and Buoyancy unfolds that evolution, planting clues that make sense after repeat watches.
Buoyancy is available on Kino Marquee
- Release Date: 9/11/2020