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.
Directed by Joachim Trier and released in it’s home country of Norway in 2011.
The following review does contain spoilers.
The film starts out with voices over the soundtrack telling stories about Oslo, the capital city of Norway. The voices tell of loves and their most memorable stories of the city they love dearly – all intercut over various footage of the city itself ending with the demolition of a building. The title card appears and we cut straight to a man’s face. This is our main character, Anders. He’s just had sex with a Swedish women, but as we find out later he’s void of desire for this act or the woman. He’s a recovering drug addict on evening leave from his treatment centre.
He leaves and walks back to the centre but on his way there his feelings overcome him. He finds a lake and decides to end his life. He fills his pockets with stones and stands at the forefront of the lake. Finding a larger stone he cradles it and descends into the water…. but moments later he reappears crying and gasping for his breath. He goes back to the treatment centre as if nothing has happened and continues his day. This opening sequence sets the scene for Anders. A man who, regardless of his drug addictions, is riddled with personal problems and has no desire whatsoever to overcome them.
The film follows him as he takes a day of leave from the treatment centre for a job interview and to meet old friends. The first thing he does when he leaves is to meet one of his closest friends who is now a father. They discuss an incredible range of topics covering suicide to friendship and worthlessness. The two are clearly at one with each other and as the film goes on you understand why he went to this man to discuss these things with first.
There is an incredibly poignant scene where he sits in a café observing the world passing him by, various conversations flutter in and out of audibility but most of what they are talking about relates to him in some way. As the world passes him by, so does the elegant camerawork focusing on the things around him more so than the character himself. A brilliant move from the director, which really showcases how one man is no better than any other – a trait which the character of Anders is well aware of.
As he meets old friends he realizes that whether or not they show it he’s no more important to them than their job or their day to day activities. As a result of this he goes and scores some heroin, no surprise seeing as he clearly is incapable of conquering any of his own troubles by himself. The ending contains an incredibly pivotal scene with Anders putting a needle into his arm. The camera barely captures it and it is incredibly ambiguous leaving you wondering if he’s injected the drug or he hasn’t – he keels over into his bed and it really is a mystery as to whether he’s under the influence or whether he’s emotionally affected by this pivotal moment in his life: “What has become of me?” He could just as well have taken it but it’s either here nor there. The beauty of this shot is that it evokes a brilliant painting from 1856 by Henry Wallis entitled “The Death of Chatterton”.
The film ends with a montage of images, as it begun, but this time with locations that we’ve seen Anders visit throughout the movie – a brilliant montage to end on. Oslo, August 31st is an exquisite film that really does show how the world will pass you by no matter who you are or what your problems are.