The Look of Silence

 

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The director of The Act of Killing returns to Indonesia to question those responsible for terrible acts committed half a century ago.

 

The director Joshua Oppenheimer sums up his documentary best when he says, “the human capacity for evil depends on our ability to lie to ourselves.” Here, the perpetrators of terrible crimes in Indonesia brush off the film’s repeated enquiry with the simple mantra, “the past is the past.” Yet the same forces that endorsed the killing of a million communists in 1965 are still in power and today the killers live side by side with the relatives of their victims. Adi Rukun is an optometrist who is guided by Oppenheimer to visit these living monsters and to question them about the death of his brother, who was gutted and castrated before his summary execution.

 

What is unique about The Look of Silence – executive produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris – is that the interviewees, fifty years after the genocide, talk openly about their crimes when the administration responsible for them is still in power. Offering his subjects a free eye test, Adi – who is unidentified to his clientele – puts forward the most probing questions, resulting in an array of reactions, from anger to denial. However, some relish the memory of their deeds, recounting their savagery in unsettling detail.

 

Look of Silence

A world apart: the interviewer's mother strives to lead a normal life

 

In-between the interviews, Oppenheimer records Adi’s life at home with his ageing parents (his father, who is blind and deaf, is reckoned to be 103-years-old), apprehensive wife and adorable son and daughter. It is a domestic scene that is both winning and harrowing. Adi previously worked with Oppenheimer on the director’s first film, The Act of Killing (2012), and here becomes the protagonist in a production that ultimately forced him and his family to move hundreds of miles from the village that they called home.

 

It’s a startling, disturbing and even beautiful work that explores the extraordinary ramifications of evil through a very human lens. And while little more than a private diary and a series of talking heads, it leaves many moments impaled in the memory. When Adi confronts his own uncle, who served as a guard for the dreaded Komando Aksi, the latter smiles uncomfortably at his nephew and says, “How dare you.” Another interviewee, the beaming daughter of a mass killer, concludes her interview with the words: “Please forgive my father. Think of us as family.”

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Featuring Adi Rukun.

 

Dir Joshua Oppenheimer, Pro Signe Byrge Sørensen, Ph Lars Skree, Ed Niels Pagh Andersen, Music Seri Banang and Mana Tahan.

 

Anonymous/Final Cut for Real/Making Movies Oy/Piraya Film A/S/Spring Films-Dogwoof Pictures. 

103 mins. Denmark/Indonesia/Finland/Norway/UK/Israel/France/USA/Germany/The Netherlands. 2014. Rel: 11 June 2015. Cert. 15.