A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.
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An Indonesian man with a communist background named Ramli was brutally murdered when the "Communist" purge occurred in 1965. His remaining family members lived in fear and silence until the making of this documentary. Adi, a brother of his, decided to revisit the horrific incident and visited the men who were responsible for the killings and one survivor of the purge. These meetings uncovered sadistic details of the murders and exposed raw emotions and reactions of the killers' family members about what happened in the past - much to Adi's disappointment.
"The Look of Silence" is a companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer's previous film "The Act of Killing". Both films deal with the mass murder of communists in Indonesia between 1965 and 1966 - a serious crime resulting in the deaths of over a million innocent people by the hands of hired militia sanctioned by the government, but has gone unnoticed in the public eye for so long because the perpetrators are still at large, hailed as national heroes for stopping a revolution and in positions of power in government for over fifty years, living peacefully among the families of those they murdered.
"Act of Killing" is more audacious in style, following three killers as they recreate their murders for film in any genre they want (gangster flick, musical, etc.) - all the while they're boastful of their accomplishments, without any remorse or regret for their actions.'
This film follows Adi Rukun, an optometrist who's brother was murdered in the genocide. We see him confronting death squad leaders and those who knew his brother, looking for some sort of understanding and possibly reconciliation for his murder. There are also domestic scenes with his mother and father, as well as with his wife and family. Life plays out happily before our eyes, but beneath it there are still painful reminders of the past when Adi talks about his brother with his mother, or when he tells his wife what he's been up to, talking with these killers they know. She says she would have stopped him if she knew, that his life could be in danger if he keeps digging up the past instead of forgetting. This gives the interviews a very real sense of tension, and you wonder if such a film could be made if it weren't for the involvement of outsiders who could be there with Adi.
Still, Adi puts up a strong front, asking why they did what they did. The answer's usually the same, they deny individual responsibility, or say that it was necessary. Sometimes their answers are disturbing, saying that they drank the blood of their victims to stay sane. Family members of the now-deceased murderer of his brother deny knowing anything about their father's work. In a very affecting scene, Adi's uncle, a prison guard in the army says he was unaware what happened to the detained after they were shipped off onto trucks each day. He's trying to keep up a strong resolve, but you can see the pain in his face when he talks about the past.
This film director chooses not to intrude on the telling of the stories with narration, but instead lets the interviewees tell their version of events, leaving pregnant pauses between answers to linger on their faces, which often tell more than spoken words ever could.
It's a very quite, slow film, but I found it hypnotic and a damning portrait of a country's silence after horrendous acts were committed. Adi gives a voice to the families of many victims, and both films should be watched by everyone to get a better understanding of the depths humanity can sink to, and how a nation struggles to cope with long dormant pain after government sanctioned genocide.
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