0334 | The Look Of Silence

Rather than serving as a follow-up to The Act Of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look Of Silence is a companion piece, the director once again shedding light on the brutal slaying of more than one million Indonesians that took place in the wake of the country’s military coup of 1965. Given the subject matter this is, once again, powerful and emotive viewing. However where the earlier film saw Oppenheimer feed rope to a number of the killers behind that massacre before letting them hang themselves via a series of increasingly bizarre re-enactments, here he narrows his focus to Adi, a man in his mid-40s whose brother Ramli was identified as a Communist, brutally tortured and then killed in the 1960s.

Adi’s work as an optometrist takes him around the local region, and using the job as a front Oppenheimer appears to have secured him access to the men directly or indirectly responsible for Ramli’s murder, many of whom already know the director from earlier interviews. Some are still in power and others wield significant local clout; the-look-of-silencewhile Adi tests their eyes the direct line of questioning employed as he seeks to find out more information about his brother’s death unnerves some and causes others to issue thinly-veiled threats. These are men who are not used to defending their past actions and there is a sense that what Adi is doing here is extremely risky even today. Indeed the ongoing danger faced by those who seek justice is highlighted once again by the listing of many crew members that helped to make this documentary as ‘Anonymous’, as per The Act Of Killing.

Obviously the conversations make for uncomfortable viewing, but the director is understandably impressed by Adi’s resolve, using close-ups that show exterior signs of impassivity and contrasting them with the unease and jumpiness of former members of the Indonesian civilian militia as this particular family history is revealed (and indeed also training the camera on Adi as he watches, dumbfounded, clips of earlier footage shot by Oppenheimer). There is a similar kind of focus on Adi’s elderly parents, the camera tracing the thin frame of Adi’s disabled father and the wrinkles and hard soles of his mother, in thrall of their longevity and strength respectively.

The film is as harrowing as The Act Of Killing, and like the earlier documentary we see footage of gangsters recounting their actions with occasional amusement, steadfastly batting away the idea that what they did was immoral. Some are blasé when they 208350-thumb-full-3636_the_look_of_silence_videocldiscuss their preferred techniques for mass slaughter, while the children of others struggle to process the information they are seemingly hearing for the first time (or at least do commendable impressions of people being told that their fathers are mass murderers). One early sequence here highlights the fact that history is taught incorrectly in Indonesian schools, thus – despite the scale – knowledge of the genocide does not seem to be widespread. Oppenheimer’s brace of films has helped to change that outside of the country, at least, even if justice still looks to be a long way off. The Look Of Silence may struggle to find as wide an audience as the earlier, more sensational piece – it’s far more conventional – but it is no less powerful and the motif about seeing (or not seeing) is simple and effective.

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer.
Cinematography: Lars Skree.
Editing: Niels Pagh Andersen.
Music: Seri Banang, Mana Tahan.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Year: 2015.

Comments 8

  1. Jay July 31, 2015

    Thanks for taking a look at this. I saw The Act of Killing and though I didn’t “enjoy” it, I did think it was a great piece to get the conversation going, and I think a film like that SHOULD disturb us.

  2. ruth July 31, 2015

    Oh man, I still need to see this companion piece to The Act of Killing. As an Indonesian, it definitely is a personal subject for me. I grew up being fed w/ propaganda and lies that the communists are horrible and that these people deserved to die. These films are meant to rattle us and it certainly did that job. Kudos to Joshua Oppenheimer for tackling this difficult topic that few even knew about, let alone care. I thanked him personally when I interviewed him a couple of years ago. He could even speak some Indonesian, he probably could do the entire interview in my native tongue but then I’d have to translate it for everyone to understand 😀

    • Stu July 31, 2015

      He speaks quite a bit of Indonesian in this film (off camera, so I’m presuming it’s him and not a translator or fixer. I guess I don’t really need to recommend this to you and I hope you see it as I’d be keen to read your thoughts. They do briefly show an Indonesian classroom and the stuff the teacher is telling the kids is surprising, to say the least.

  3. Tom August 2, 2015

    As I struggled mightily to finish The Act of Killing (it was one film I am glad to be over and done with to say the least) I really doubt I’ll fit this into my schedule. I understand the importance of the history Oppenheimer digs into in these documentaries but some part of me feels like it’s giving these killers and psychopaths an even bigger platform to announce themselves as the heroes or justified ones they truly think they are. I can’t say for sure whether my opinion is fueled more out of the enragement I felt from seeing Act of Killing or that I’m just not getting the bigger picture, but . . . I don’t know. I am not big on this guy.

    I absolutely respect your take on it though, and for anyone else that is more personally touched by these stories I obviously feel for them as well. Maybe I’d better appreciate it if I were being spoken to more directly (i.e. if I were Indonesian).

    • Stu August 2, 2015

      Fair enough! He did come in for some criticism for the way the first film was made, but I think the approach here works even better (it’s more like a straightforward doc) although that means it won’t find as wide an audience, so it’s a double-edged sword. The guys Oppenheimer interviews are despicable, that’s for sure, and they’re challenged in a more direct way here.

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