Search Film Reviews

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Courtesy of Drafthouse Films/Participant Media
NYFF Review
2014, 99 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

The Act of Killing shook the film world when it was released in theaters last year.  No one had ever seen anything quite like it.  The Act of Killing was a movie but also a historical document, a social experiment, and a disturbing exposé of modern-day Indonesian society.  While making Act, Joshua Oppenheimer filmed The Look of Silence, his equally disturbing follow-up about a man, Adi, who confronts the men who killed his brother during the 1965 Indonesian genocide.  All of the murderers are free in Indonesia, many of them in government.

The Look of Silence is more intimate than Act, which makes many of its sequences more horrifying.  There's very little that's visually disturbing in Look, but that doesn't mean that it does not unnerve.  In a particularly horrifying sequence, one of the murderers describes with great pleasure (and in explicit detail) how he killed Adi's brother.  What's especially terrifying about the murderers is the glee with which they describe (and sometimes reenact) their crimes - they think they've done something good, even though their victims were all innocent.

However, behind the eyes of some of the murderers is a deep sense of guilt that they try to mask with machismo.  And this leads to why Oppenheimer's films are the masterworks that they are: they show man's capacity to commit acts of evil in all of their complexity.  Through the interviews and reenactments in both films, Oppenheimer lets the murderers strip down the layers of their own minds.  With these sequences, we gain a window into the mind of a psychopath.

In years to come, I think we'll be studying Oppenheimer's films in not only film classes, but in psychology and history classes as well.  While The Look of Silence doesn't quite have the pure visceral power of The Act of Killing, it is a highly fascinating piece of work that shook me to the core.  Oppenheimer is in search of the truth and won't stop until he finds it.  Few filmmakers delve into the morals of those committing genocide, and even fewer are fortunate enough to have the access that Oppenheimer has.  Through his two films, Oppenheimer has introduced much of the world to a tragedy that is never discussed, especially in the country in which it took place.  It is of the utmost importance that you see The Look of Silence when it releases next summer.  While not what anyone would call an "enjoyable" film, The Look of Silence is a necessary one and one you won't forget.


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