The Look of Silence
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Starring Adi Rukun, M.Y. Basrun, Amir Hasan, Inong and Kemat
A family that survives the genocide in Indonesia confronts the men who killed one of their brothers.
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★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
Oppenheimer's THE ACT OF KILLING follow-up uses a blunter, equally brilliant conceptual approach for a more sedate and unsettling portrait of the Indonesian genocide and the rampant denial that has allowed the perpetrators to survive. the film doesn't get too caught up in the time-honored literary tradition of the revelatory optometrist, it's just one of the many tools Oppenheimer uses to mediate the memories... if the first film was predicated on a sensationalist feeling of HOLY SHIT, LOOK AT HOW THESE PEOPLE HAVE INTERNALIZED THEIR ATROCITIES, the second is happy to have that out of the way, free to instead consider not just what is remembered, but how we change when it is forgotten. memory is not just an act of reaching back, but a process of decay... how are these men changed by the rot of what they can recall? as dementia sets in, are they still the same men who committed these crimes, or – earned or not – have they achieved a new innocence?
i was on the edge for the last 25 minutes or so... a meeting with one of the killers with his adult daughter by his side, watching her process the information she's given... what a crucial, crucial film.
★★★★½ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
"Well, that's how it is... Life on earth. Feel free to take a photo."
★★★★½ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
If there's a more consistently human modern filmmaker than Joshua Oppenheimer, then please point the way. Back in 2012, he created one of the most appalling, essential films of our time, and now he's returned with a companion piece (although that is selling it short) entitled The Look of Silence, documenting the haunting aftermath and the silent vacuum surrounding open wounds. It is a revolutionary film, both in its questions and its answers, allowing an entire family to reach their respective points of understanding (or a lack thereof) without cloying film-making tactics or underlying motivation. It's a film where each scene is more horrifying than the last, building on a resonant sense of history where a cumulative voice of anguish is in a perpetual state of danger. The fact that Oppenheimer and crew had to have multiple getaway cars set up for a variety of the interviews only enhances the urgency, morphing important conversations into minefields. Staggering filmmaking, showcasing monsters in plain daylight, taking cheery photos on the grounds of countless murders while the camera never flinches.
★★★★½ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
The past is the past, it is best left there, closed up to remain untouched. This is a sentiment we hear again and again in Joshua Oppenheimer's second film on the Indonesian genocide, spoken by the survivors and their families, as well as the perpetrators and their relatives. Survival is inherently intertwined with suffering however it is inflicted and that lies at the heart of this painful journey.
The director is far more blunt in his approach compared to the surreal reconstructions of the first film. We see Indonesia's past and future through the eyes of optical specialist Adi, his brother slain under the military rule, now searching for a sense of closure to the bitterness that has enveloped his family for half a century. We learn how that period of brutality still shapes the future of children learning about their past and how the men who committed the crimes have come to live with what took place.
Adi's parents are both around a century old themselves (although his father says he is 17), their face and bodies bearing the brunt of years of physical and mental graft. His mother still grieves for her son Ramli, unable to forgive those who butchered him so mercilessly, his fathers dementia most likely sparing him the same trauma. Ramli's death was particularly vicious but because his killers still hold literal and figurative power, no punishment has ever been handed out.
Oppenheimer's camera follows Adi, as his job allows him to meet with the foot soldiers and commanders responsible for the massacre. He is remarkably measured and calm in how he gently probes these old men, despite being accused of being a communist himself and listening to stories of how some, like Inong, drank the blood of their victims, to avoid going 'crazy'. Time and again Adi is met with resistance once his questions overstep boundaries they deem acceptable, choosing to keep any obligations toward their history rooted firmly there.
A meeting with another killer and his daughter brings out a truth she was unaware of. 'Sadistic' she says. Adi's mother learns that her brother was a prison guard overseeing those taken off to their deaths, including her own son. Horrible truths that you wish they never had to hear but an essential part of cleansing out the decades of lies and untruths.
These death squads were under instruction by the military, themselves used as pawns in a far larger political game. Their refusal to address past actions demonstrates not the evil of man but the poisonous stranglehold of male pride that stops them openly admitting and facing the monsters they unleashed. Oppenheimer's use of Adi's investigative search is simply devastating, spanning a generational network coming to terms with the horrors buried in their recent history. A journey that will sadly have to be made by countless others, as time has a nasty habit of unraveling the bitter truth in the end.
★★★★★ review by YI JIAN on Letterboxd
You killed innocent people.
'I don't want to talk about politics.'
You tortured and massacred my family.
'You ask too many questions.'
How do you grant forgiveness to the people who do not ask for them? These people are absolutely blind towards the ugly, disgusting deeds that they've contributed to, be it directly or indirectly, even with newly prescribed glasses they've chosen to look the other way. Politics? Since when did people equate the word with bloodlust and ignorance? The arrogance of these murderers makes my blood boil. In the face of evil and corruption they offered silence, petty excuses, I am looking forward to the day hell is fully booked, won't be too long now.
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