If you were alive in 2013 (and if you’re reading this then you definitely were) and have any fleeting interest in film, you may have heard of a little film called The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer’s masterpiece stormed over the film scene with its intense look at the ignored genocide in Indonesia and the consequences of those actions, but from the eyes of the murderers. The film is incredibly haunting and filled with some of the most horrific descriptions of torture to ever be heard, and with such nonchalance to boot. Oppenheimer arrived this year with the follow-up, The Look of Silence, a film as horrifying and frightening as the first film, but in a more traditional sense.
Oppenheimer shifts his focus towards the victims rather than the perpetrators of the Indonesian Genocide, and by doing so, deceives the audience into thinking we’re in for a more straight forward documentary into the outlook of the victims of the aforementioned atrocity. Yet, it’s a film that is equally as scary and nerve racking as anything I had ever seen in a documentary. By Adi (the man we follow throughout the course of the film), trying to confront the abusers and their families, about the things that were done to his family and many others; the audience is forced to sit through literal provocation of the attackers and Indonesian government that still has not taken full responsibility for the massacre that was responsible for the deaths of millions of people.
Oppenheimer not only sits in on the proceedings in which these people are interviewed, he also takes part in the confrontation. And even now, I’m not sure confrontation is the correct word. Adi is just looking for these people to accept the responsibility of what they, or their loved ones, have done. The audience then feels put into danger that at any moment, someone could actually be responsible for more murders. During an interview, one of the interviewees states that by doing what Adi is doing, he is stirring up trouble which could cause another genocide to happen sooner than it already would. This movie is figuratively playing with fire.
And it isn’t just the subject matter that makes the film powerful. The camerawork in this film is remarkably beautiful. There are several scenes that focus on facial expressions that keep you captivated by letting you look on in silence, no pun intended. Every brush stroke feels methodical and thought through. The scenes which focus on Adi’s family is especially satisfying in keeping you engrossed by allowing the audience to sit in with close-ups of these people. And silence is used just as powerfully. There is almost no score in the film and it helps in not manipulating the audience directly, leaving us with the director’s confidence that we can gather our own thoughts on the material instead of being forced into them.
One of the saddest focuses of the film may focus on Adi’s parents. His Mother takes care of Adi’s Father who has gone blind and mostly deaf. Adi’s Father at one point wanders around their home trying to find someone to help him before he reaches a wall and starts to sob. His Mother talks about living in a country where she could walk across the street and talk to one of the people responsible for the murder of her son, Adi’s brother, during the genocide. Other moments involve her talking to Adi about how blessed she was to have Adi come into her life, almost as a replacement for her dead son. The Look of Silence is full of moments like these and makes it increasingly difficult to sit through. Not only had affected the people who were alive, but proven to affect the generations afterwards.
The Look of Silence may be considered a lesser work than The Act of Killing, but I don’t think it makes it less profound and disheartening. The film works less with experimentation but uses more directness. By using the format in the film (which during an interview with Vince Mancini, Oppenheimer stated that he warned Adi against interviewing the perpetrators face to face due to the dangers of what could happen to his family), Oppenheimer allows the audience to be present in the regions ignorance and horror that is still present among the victims and their families. A particularly haunting scene involves a school teacher sharing Indonesian propaganda to children, including Adi’s young son, about what happened in 1965. The film is a direct look at what happens in the aftermath and whether the victims can move on from such terror.
The Act of Killing is undoubtedly one of the most important documentaries of the 21st century and I’d consider The Look of Silence to be the perfect companion piece to it. Whether or not this film is recognized by large film organizations like the Academy or the Hollywood Foreign Press isn’t important or necessary. These films will stand the test of time, prove to be unforgettable and will definitely not be ignored.