Monday, February 15, 2016

Oscar Documentary with Abe: The Look of Silence

The Look of Silence
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Released July 17, 2015

While sequels and remakes seem to be more prevalent than ever nowadays, it’s rare that documentary subjects are revisited a second time by the same filmmaker. In 2013, American director Joshua Oppenheimer released the haunting “The Act of Killing,” in which he traveled to Indonesia and invited those involved in the brutal murders of alleged communists decades earlier to reenact their crimes, which they gleefully and unapologetically did. Now, two years later, Oppenheimer has released a follow-up that centers on an Indonesian man whose brother was one of those killed and gives him the incredible opportunity to speak directly to those responsible.

“The Act of Killing” was a horrifying film that achieved that effect most notably by the way its interview subjects glorified their killings as they retold them, unashamed and unafraid to admit what they had done. An early scene in “The Look of Silence” finds Adi Rukun in shock that the education his children receive paints the time of his brother’s murder as one of legitimate and documented revolution against the communists. What Oppenheimer allows Adi to do here is to go further and ask questions that deeply trouble those still in power, and immediately bring them to end the interview and accuse Adi of talking politics.

The film’s poignant poster image features one of the older commanders being fitted for glasses. Adi travels from house to house with Oppenheimer and his camera and begins every conversation by checking each person’s eyes. That those he visits are so old and soft-spoken might serve to make them seem less threatening or more easily forgiven, but the way that they boast about the killings and the brutal manner in which they were carried out negates that effect. The words of the interviewees’ adult children speak even louder, as they liken it to the water under the bridge and profess that they couldn’t have known what their parents had done.

This documentary’s title gets to the unshakeable nature of the subject it probes. Multiple times throughout the film, Adi is seen watching footage from Oppenheimer’s previous film, including scenes in which the way his brother was killed is described in boastful detail. The look of silence on Adi’s face says it all, and every interview he conducts is filled with quiet passion and disbelief that none of the guilty men will take responsibility for the evil of what they have done. By pushing further than “The Act of Killing,” Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated follow-up is a strong, unshakeable piece that shines a light on something that no one seems to want to admit was an awful chapter in recent Indonesian history.


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