Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Look of Silence (2014)

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Language: Indonesian

A family that survived the 1965-66 genocide in Indonesia, where communists were targeted by the military dictatorship, confronts the men who killed one of their brothers.

This one is a companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer's Oscar nominated documentary 'The Act of Killing', which had him encouraging the perpetrators to describe and re-enact the killings so that he could film it. Many of the killers didn't feel any remorse and, in fact, they were actually proud of the anti-communist purge that they executed with tacit support from the likes of US which was paranoid due to 'Red-Scare'. It is estimated that around 500,000 people were killed and most of them were ethnic-Chinese people. In 'The Look of Silence', Joshua has the brother of one of the victims interview some of the perpetrators and like 'The Act of Killing', it is a surreal and shocking watch. It is cinematic in its structure as well because of the progression in nature of people that he is interviewing. These are the kind of subjects which can never be told in the feature film format: as the old adage goes 'Facts can be stranger than Fiction'. 

The documentary also features, along with all the interviews, reactions of the brother as he is watching some unused footage from 'The Act of Killing'. There is no extra back ground music or narration and the director let the interviews and the intermittent silences tell the story. I suspect this one was filmed before the release of the original documentary because there is no way they would have granted these interviews after that. In fact, some people even accuse that the very act of Joshua making the documentary and asking questions have opened up the old wounds. I would like to see their reactions now after seeing he finished product. I suspect that these documentaries  are banned in Indonesia but I wonder whether any of them have seen it from the Internet. The identity of the interviewing brother is kept secret and I hope he and his family is out of that country for their own safety.

It is a must watch for those who have already seen the first one. For others, I would advise them to watch 'The Act of Killing' first because you won't be able to appreciate the former fully, for what it, if you watch it after seeing 'The Look of Silence' first. TLoS will still work as a stand-alone documentary but I suspect people will wonder from where the original footage came. I don't know how the academy managed to not give TAoK an Oscar last time around and I suspect they will correct that mistake by giving it to 'TLoS' this time.  

Rating: 5/5