BUOYANCY – movie review

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+


CARGA – movie review

Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Bruno Gascon
Screenwriter:  Bruno Gascon
Cast: Michalina Olszanska, Vítor Norte, Rita Blanco, Sara Sampaio, Miguel Borges, Dmitry Bogomolov, ana Cirstina de Oliveira
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/1/19
Opens: TBD

You can tell the bad guys by their smoking.  And boy, does Viktor (Dmitri Bogomolov) smoke.  With cigarettes costing a half a buck each in the U.S., Viktor can easily afford this and get the best brand since, after all, he drives a Maserati.  Does he ever think of the moral consequences of heading a ring that traffics in human slavery?  That allows kidnapped girls to be raped up to eight times a day by what one of the women says will be by big, smelly guys?  Judging by what happens to Viktor in the final third of the story, there’s a hint that he did finally realize that he’s the bad guy; that in his youth, he probably rooted for James Bond over Le Chiffre, Hugo Drax, Rosa Klebb and Dr. Julius No.  But now he likes money and for most of the film he is bereft of most things that make a person ethical.

As for Viktoriya (Michalina Olszanska), she gets into trouble because she wants a better life.  She doesn’t smoke, so that’s not in her budget, but she probably would not mind having a Maserati. In fact she does get to drive that very car at one point though not with the permission of the owner.  To seek that better life she signs up with António (Vitor Norte), a fellow with a thick white beard and a shock of white hair and a look on his face throughout that shows he’s not too happy with his side job.  If he were in Central America he would be called a coyote, but here in Portugal, he makes extra bucks carrying illegal immigrants on the back of his truck from Eastern Europe to the Portuguese countryside, working for Viktor and the Russian fellow’s almost equally obnoxious sister Yulia (Kim Grygierzee).

Serving as Viktoriya’s mentor, Sveta (Ana Cristina Oliveira) asks her if she’s a virgin and instructs her how to do her job; how to pretend she likes the smelly men lest she get killed by Viktor—who already demonstrated his lack of scruples about killing by shooting a man accompanying Viktoriya on the truck without allowing him to reconsider when he refuses to hand over his passport.

With  lots of shots of violence—shooting, raping, saying hostile things to the victims, writer-director Bruno Gascon, in his freshman full-length feature (his twenty-minute short “Emptiness” notes that 340 million people in the world are depressed give or take a hundred million), ends his sordid tale as though it were a docudrama.  He warns in an epilogue that “this could be you,” as though such counsel will make us sympathize with those victims who are not “us” when we might otherwise not care.

“Carga” was filmed by JP Caldeano in six locations in Portugal, at once a thriller, psychological study, and a warning to all of us of the horror of world-wide sexual slavery, and perhaps even a subtle admonition not to smoke or you could morph into a bad guy—but on the other hand a bad guy who can afford a Maserati.

113 minutes.  © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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