BUOYANCY – movie review

BUOYANCY
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rodd Rathjien
Writer: Rodd Rathjien
Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros, Saichia Wongwirot, Yothin Udomsanti, Chan Visal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/2/20
Opens: September 11, 2020

Buoyancy (2019) - IMDb

Watching this movie, I couldn’t help thinking of the line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” “There are lots of good fish in the sea, tra la, there are lots of good fish in the sea.” We are warned that there’s a limit to the number of fish in the world’s oceans just as there’s a limit to the amount of oil in the ground, but you wouldn’t know it from the catches of a small fishing boat under the rule of the Thai captain, the unhappy catch shoveled into a pit for future sale by a group of enslaved Cambodians. Forget Gilbert and Sullivan because there is no comedy in “Buoyancy,” Australia’s entry for an Academy Award for pictures opening in 2019. If you have to compare, think of Nat Turner’s rebellion in the Virginia of 1831 or of Steven Spielberg’s film “Amistad,” its most heartbreaking scene finding a group of enslaved Africans chained together and thrown overboard by the captain.

Filmed by Michael Latham in Cambodia with Khmer and Thai dialogue, “Buoyancy” is directed by its screenwriter Rodd Rathjien, in his freshman full-length offering. This is an intense, slow-burn drama based not only on a singular event in the life of a 14-year-old boy but standing in as well for human slave trafficking in Asia involving some 200,000 victims.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too bright, to think for yourself, to take risks like the hero of “Buoyancy.” Think of Chakra (Sarm Heng), whose father uses him to carry heavy sacks for use in farming rice in paddies without pay, though his dad simply has too many kids to set up a wage-earning business. Like the human caravans we in the U.S. are familiar with, the thousands of migrants from Central America who cross into the U.S. with the hope of making something of their lives, Chakra seeks to make his fortune by being smuggled into Thailand, where he is told he can make some 8,000 bahts ($255 U.S.) a month in a factory. Instead, after crossing into Thailand, Chakra and his traveling friend are sold to Rom Ran (Thanawut Kasro), the captain of a fishing boat, where they are treated like unwanted animals. Those who grumble learn quickly enough to keep quiet. Instead of complaining verbally, formerly innocent Chakra asks Rom Ran when their debt will be paid. After that he projects his dismay, his rage through his facial expressions. He does not smile once though Thanawut Kasro as the skipper loves to smirk when he announces such finality that Chakra will be on the boat “forever.”

Chakra learns soon enough that he will get nowhere following Martin Luther King Jr.’s counsel to meet hatred with love, and forget about the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi. Violence will be the only way out, leading to the audience-expected treat that finds Chakra executing a coup d’état to take over the captaincy.

Sarm Heng doesn’t say much but his expressions serve as sign language for us in the theater. Yet the real guy to watch is Kasro in the skipper’s role. He toys verbally and physically with Chakra, and in at least one scene you might expect him to make Chakra a sex slave as well. No wonder they say that all actors aspire to the role of villain! What’s more Kasro, unlike Sarm Heng, is a professional actor with an impressive résumé, including a role in “Samurai Ayothaya” ten years ago, based on a historic figure during the Ayothaya Era about a Japanese adventurer who gained influence in Thailand.

I’d be seasick on this small boat every waking hour, which would be enough punishment for me. Yet I would have to count my blessings that I am not one of the tens of thousands of poor, innocent young people caught up in the vile human trafficking industry in the South China sea.

The film won various well-deserved awards including Best First Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival. In Khmer and Thai with English subtitles.

92 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

 

A WHALE OF A TALE – movie review

A WHALE OF A TALE

Fine Line Media
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Megumi Sasaki
Screenwriter:  Megumi Sasaki
Cast:  Jay Alabaster, residents of the Japanese town of Taiji
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 8/7/18
Opens: August 17, 2018

 

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It’s easy for moralists to sit back, sipping their bourbon, smoking their Cuban cigars, and waxing poetic about the need for a universal code of morality.  Never mind that some cultures are so poor that many must kill creatures to make a living, and we’re talking about people who live in countries where earning a dollar a day for mining is acceptable.  Many of us in the U.S. (members of PETA like me) might understand, if not condone, the poaching of elephants in Kenya for their valuable tusks, the clubbing of dogs in China where dog meat is no different from cow meat, and the massive slaughter of animals in our own factory farms.  After all, if most Americans eat beef, pork, lamb and the like, who are we elitists to complain about the killing of any animal?  What about the clubbing of seals in Canada, a rich country, the seals used not for survival but for the making of fur garments.  And we can go on and on about the fur trade in general, a lucrative one, and never mind the torture that animals must go through to provide chinchilla and mink.

There is one form of killing that—at least according to Megumi Sasaki’s documentary “A Whale of a Tale”—is almost universally condemned, and that’s the fishing of dolphins, centered on the village of Taiji which was the subject of the Oscar Best Documentary of 2010, “The Cove.”  It’s not that dolphins feel more pain than halibut, salmon, tuna and swordfish, but that they are creatures of intelligence matching that of human beings.  They are fished out of international waters by the whalers of this Japanese town of 3,000, whaling has been their tradition long before Moby Dick carved out revenge, and they’ll be damned if they let foreigners come in with cameras to tell them what to eat or catch.

As with “The Cove,” with its sobering look at the butchering of scores of dolphins trapped in a cove, the industry has been the focus of mass protests, not only in “the West” as the whalers call the accursed protesters, but also in the Philippines, a march with signs among the images captured in “A Whale of a Tale.”

On the one side are activists who are in Japan and appear 100% from the West, though many of them have been denied re-entry into the country because of their use of Facebook and Twitter to tell the world about what they consider a great evil. On the other are the whalers who depend on dolphins which they catch and kill and sell for food, or if they can manage it, sell the fish to Seaworld-type centers—which in my mind are as immoral as the late, ungreat, Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus.  In the middle is Jay Alabaster, an American journalist from Arizona who teaches English in Japan, who is fluent in Japanese, and who serves as a neutral party trying to bring the opposing groups together.  His view is that the small-town Japanese cannot begin to match the power of the foreign protesters because locals are not computer-savvy on Facebook and Twitter and therefore cede the propaganda ground to the protesters.

When the cameras are not on the waters around the village, they are at a press conference bringing the two sides together, including the mayor who would prefer to change the economy to tourism rather than whaling.  It’s probably not because the mayor has had a moral epiphany but rather that the Japanese do not eat much whale meat—the equivalent in a year as a slice of ham—and prices have tumbled.  As Seaworld-type entertainments are biting the dust, there may not be much market for dolphins there either.  And many believe the dolphins have toxic loads of mercury making them inedible.

By the way, from what I get, what the Japanese call whales are what we call dolphins.  The camera-work is stunning, contrasting the bonhomie of a small village with the madhouse atmosphere in overcrowded Tokyo.  The arguments are balanced, the director seeming to be impartial.  In any case the industry is on its last fins, which means that not only the whalers will be deprived of a living, but Hollywood would be deprived of a moral tale to trot out at awards time.

Animal rights activists will rejoice while traditional Japanese fisherman will be outraged by this effective story of the struggle to ban the exploitation in a small Japanese town of whales. A sequel to the Oscar-winning doc “The Cove.”

Unrated.  95 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+