BUOYANCY Deservedly Submitted as Australia’s Entry for 2020 Oscars

BUOYANCY is a movie that drew me in from the poster – a stunning piece of art of a young man floating in water. The gay man in me was definitely interested. I then saw the trailer and I had to see the film. My god it looked amazing. The screening followed a few weeks later, back in September, and I was blowd sideways.

A Khmer and Thai language film that is actually an Aussie film that unwittingly becomes the poster child for child fishing slavery that is rampant overseas (more on that down below). And to top it off, it’s a next level thriller all set at sea that examines what happens when someone is pushed too far.

As mentioned, it released back in September on a very small release, I am sorry I did not get time to publish back then, the new business is a vacuum of my life and time. It was released in cinemas from Umbrella Films and releases on Vimeo on Demand on January 22 – you can pre-order it now to rent for under $7- or to own for less than $13- – DO IT!! I am sure Umbrella Entertainment will have hard copy versions available also – PRE-ORDER AND GET MORE INFO HERE. If it makes the Oscars shortlist then fingers crossed it will come back to cinemas, it deserves it! BUOYANCY is rated M and runs for 93mins.

Buoyancy Sarm Heng image
Sarm Heng

BY JASON KING

BUOYANCY SYNOPSIS:

In rural Cambodia, spirited 14-year-old Chakra works the rice fields with his family. He yearns for independence and seeks out a local broker who can get him paid work in a Thai factory. Without telling his family, Chakra travels to Bangkok to make his fortune.

Chakra secretly journeys across the border and finally arrives in Thailand. But there he and his new friend Kea realise the broker has lied to them. Both Chakra and Kea, along with other Cambodians and Burmese, are sold to a fishing captain as slaves.

They are trapped at sea indefinitely, trawling fish 22 hours a day, surviving on just a handful of cold rice. Captain Rom Ran quickly weeds out those slaves weakened by the conditions or trying to escape, and throws them overboard. The trawler sells its catch and restocks its supplies without going to land, making escape impossible.

Buoyancy Boat image

A HEAVY THRILLER WITH A WORLD WIDE MESSAGE:

This Screen Australia supported feature is Australia’s official submission for the Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Academy Awards®. The Khmer and Thai language film will compete with the other entrants from around the world to be shortlisted for nomination.

Already a major award winner from the 2019 Berlinale and now causing ripples around the world, BUOYANCY is the stunning debut feature from Australian writer/director Rodd Rathjen, produced by Causeway Films’ Sam Jennings (CARGO) and Kristina Ceyton (THE NIGHTINGALE, THE BABADOOK), with Rita Walsh (I USED TO BE NORMAL: A BOYBAND FANGIRL STORY). 

At first I was worried it was going to be more like a documentary solely showing the horrendously sad experiences that can happen to these boys and men. But out of nowhere this turns from a sad story of no-hope survival into one dark and powerful thriller. The film is shot by Michael Latham (HOMECOMING QUEENS, ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS) and every frame is stunning. Latham manages to pair bleak desperation with beauty in shooting the film. First time feature director (and writer) Rodd Rathjen has won many awards for his short films but never has he made something this long. I am still dumbfounded – something this good isn’t usually your debut! The biggest thing that makes my mind explode in the making of the film, 90% of it is shot at sea!!! Technically it is a masterpiece!!

Buoyancy Thanawut Kasro image
Thanawut Kasro

THE STORY THE WORLD NEEDS TO HEAR:

BUOYANCY is the first fictional feature film about the horrific real-life phenomenon of slavery on Thai fishing boats. Thailand’s fishing sector returned export earnings of $5.5bn in 2017, with half the estimated 600,000 men working in the industry from poverty-stricken countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia. They are trafficked and forcibly set to work on commercial fishing boats, which supply seafood products to consumers around the world.

Every day approximately 60 boys leave Cambodia for Thailand thinking they are going to work in a factory and send money home to their families. Less than 5 of them return. Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with 248 current and former Burmese and Cambodian fishermen as well as Thai officials, boat owners, local activists and United Nations agency staff over a two-year period in all of Thailand’s major fishing ports.

They reported that “Forced labour is routine. The workers we interviewed described being trafficked onto ships, trapped in jobs they couldn’t leave, physical abuse, lack of food, long hours and awful working conditions. The worst thing for many of them was not being paid – the psychological harm and final indignity was the hardest to bear.”

Help us petition the Australian government to create a standard so we know if our seafood is #SlaveryFree. https://www.change.org/p/marise-payne-help-us-ensure-australians-can-buy-slaveryfreeseafood – I have signed and chipped in $20-.

Buoyancy Slave Torture image

SARM HENG GIVES ONE OF THE BEST UNDERSTATED PERFORMANCES IN YEARS:

They ticked off getting an awesome director, they ticked off having an awesome cinematographer, so it’s applause worthy they went the hatrick and got a spectacular actor. There are a few good actors in BUOYANCY but the film is carried all the way home by Sarm Heng – I would give the kid an Oscar if it was my choice haha. He is brilliant, one of the single most understated performances of 2019.

It is not a dialogue heavy film and once he realises his predicament Chakra (Sarm) withdraws inside himself – you can see his mind turning over, plotting, planning, testing the waters. But as he gets used to his routine and survival his mental capacity parallels his plotting. But that’s the magic of it – he couldn’t have done what he does without the mental state. It shows exactly what happens when you push and push people – Sarm got to the end of this tether and didn’t fade – he wrapped it around his hand and yanked the bloody thing – it is BRILLIANT!!

Another standout for me is Thanawut Kasro as Rom Ran, the ship’s heinous skipper. You hate this guy so much, he is like one of Rambo’s nemeses. He is so bloody terrible but at the same time so bloody good in his delivery you have to love his performance.

Buoyancy Sarm Heng image
Sarm Heng

IN CONCLUSION:

BUOYANCY is, simply, one of my favourite films of 2019. A debut direction that lights up the screen, with cinematography that demands awards, and a debut lead actor I would hand an Oscar to. It ticks all the boxes. When it releases on January 22 for home entertainment I will own it. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. A movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict he is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. 

He believes all it takes to make a good movie is a bloody good story, with a little luck the rest should fall in line. He is getting a little sick of saying “story story story” in his reviews with so much shite releasing in the last decade. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.