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What To Watch Thursday is Overdose’s weekly film injection: every Thursday we will tell you which cinematographic pearls are not to be missed! This week we discuss a follow-up to a well-received documentary.
The Look of Silence
Anticipation: Billed as the companion piece to the Oscar-nominated game-changing documentary The Act of Killing (2012), Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence promises to be essential viewing. Produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris among others, the film arrives in the Netherlands for theatrical release after travelling the film festival circuit (Telluride, Toronto, New York, IDFA) and winning the DOX:Award at CPH:DOX and the Grand Jury Prize at Venice, where it had its world première.
Appreciation: Just three years ago Joshua Oppenheimer and his collaborators shook the documentary world with The Act of Killing. Documenting present day conversations with the paramilitary death squad in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia, the film revealed not only that the mass killings of so-called communists in ’65-66 remain unacknowledged as crimes but also that its perpetrators still walk around the neighbourhood boasting of the atrocities committed. Beyond its subject matter, what made it unique was the staged re-enactments of the crimes in the style of popular film genres with main subject Anwar Congo and friends playing executioner and victim.
What appeared to be a collusive relationship between film-makers and perpetrators led a number of critics to find fault with The Act of Killing. As if conceived in response, its remarkable follow-up presents the other side of the harrowing story – that of the victims. Filmed during the same period as its predecessor, it shifts its documentary subject to 44-year old optometrist Adi Rukun, whose brother was brutally murdered during the genocide before he was born. Rukun takes on the role of interviewer and visits the paramilitary executioners to question them on their actions that have pained his family for his entire lifetime.
While the absurdity of The Act of Killing provided its viewers with a cushion from the monstrous subject matter, the pared down simplicity of the interviews here deliver an altogether more punishing experience. Rather than rage and aggression, Rukun shows remarkable courage and composure as he offers his professional skills as an optometrist to measure the eyesight of his interview subjects – a bold metaphor of the broader discourse of action Oppenheimer and Rukun are attempting to undertake with the film. Even louder than the executioners barking lyrical on their brutal acts, the film is a resounding plea for Indonesia to look back at the country’s recent past with renewed eyes.
The Look of Silence
Length: 99 min
Verdict: ★★★★★ – Incredible follow-up to The Act of Killing
Where to see: Rialto, De Balie, Eye (with English subtitles)
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