Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and saw its first theatrical release in one of the countries that funded the project (Denmark) in 2012. It premiered earlier in the year at the Telluride Film Festival in the USA.
A fantastically shot documentary told from the perspectives of Indonesian government gangsters who killed a whole lot of Communists (who were “cruel” themselves) in the mid-’60s. The director Joshua Oppenheimer has actually been making films since the ’90s but sadly I’ve not heard anything from him since before this. I hope to see some of his older films soon. This newest documentary has been hyped up to be quite the masterpiece but I personally can’t say that it is one.
Once you get to know the people who the film surrounds itself around you kind of don’t want to delve into the subject matter. They’re irritating and when it comes down to it, close-minded. They’ve already had their opinions cemented thanks to help from both Indonesian and American governments in the ’60s. Once you begin to understand the story and the backbone of which director Joshua Oppenheimer is trying to get through to us you begin to empathize with them as you can see the state that their minds are at. One scene sees the killers re-enacting a terribly chilling scene in which a guy gets strangled to death – but the “actors” play it like a James Cagney film noir from the 1930s. The disturbing and hilarious elements of the scene destroys any sense of realism you could get from a film like this in which the subject matter is one of such delicacy.
At the end of the day, the film consists solely of elements moulded together by the memories of the men who killed millions of people. The leader of who, Anwar Congo, plays the starring role. Congo himself begins to see something of a realization near the end of the film and you begin to see in his eyes that he finally understands that what he did was wrong. It’s no surprise that these men are so happy even after so much time to dwell or to not dwell on the things that they have done. The governments who sanctioned the murders clearly had a hand in the way that these men’s lives turned out.
The Act of Killing clocks in at 159 minutes and, for a documentary, it is quite a test to sit through – but the end result is one of bliss and is a delight to watch even if you don’t quite understand the intricacy of the subject which Oppenheimer is telling us. It is an unconventional documentary for sure but it has very clear influences from such things as documentaries from Vice, that have been coming out all over YouTube and their website for the past five years or so, aswell as some of the classic documentary makers such as Werner Herzog. Funnily enough, Herzog is actually an executive producer on this film – there’s a great story Herzog tells in this interview with the second executive producer Errol Morris – you can check it out on YouTube by clicking this link.