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Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Currently streaming on: Netflix
Words: J. Senior
Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow up to the searing and disturbing The Act of Killing is again a tough watch, and a stunning evocation of the documentary format. Oppenheimer tones down the scale of his approach with this installment into his investigations of the Indonesian Genocides of the 1960’s. Where the previous film used staged performances of mass killings by the men who initially performed them, The Look of Silence uses interviews interspersed with cinema verite observations of the surrounding landscapes to create a juxtaposition in the material. It’s almost like a dream that fluctuates into short bursts of nightmare.
We follow a man, an optomestrist named Adi Rakun, as he seeks out the men who butchered his brother to death in public, a murder that was infamous in the region for its brutality. Adi acts as our guide through the film, offering free eye exams as a method of questioning and interrogating those responsible for the death of his brother. He is attempting to understand a time before he was born and to paint a more solid picture of his brother’s final moments. He does so by putting himself and his own family at intense risk of exposure to the still ruling regime’s harsh punishments. All to try and come to grips with the loss of a family member who died before he was even born.
This film is an assault on the senses and the mind; you hear in detail the method’s and procedures used to kill people en-mass and your imagination works on overtime to try and help you visualise the violent acts which are described and at times even bragged about. The officials responsible for the genocides believed they were taking part in a revolution and cleansing of Communists in the country. What we see briefly in this film is evidence of a psychotic phenomenon, a culture was provided where murder and sadism were encouraged. The men that sought and craved this behaviour were rewarded with power and influence. Adi manages to show how bizarre and frightening human nature is in his pursuit of his own goals. It’s fascinating and deeply haunting all at once.
The film is also a visual painting of trauma and how it can consume you. Adi’s parents have failed to move on from the murders and it has cast a dark shadow over their lives, having lived far beyond their years full of regret and feat that they may suffer the same fate as their deceased son.
It may not be a film to entertain or enthrall an audience, it sure isn’t escapism. But in terms of cinematic craft and intrigue The Look of Silence is one of the most important pieces of cinema in modern history. Providing a keen and unflinching view of life lived in such a different way to our own. It makes Brexit seem like a pantomime…