The Look of Silence


Hindsight rarely is 20/20.

Hindsight rarely is 20/20.

(2009) Documentary (Drafthouse) Adi Rukun, M.Y. Basrun, Amir Hasan, Inong, Kemat, Joshua Oppenheimer, Amit Siahaan, Ted Yates. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

 

One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen is The Act of Killing. A look at the death squads that murdered between half a million and a million people in Indonesia in 1965-6 as a brutal military junta (which is in power to this day) took over. In an effort to rid the country of “communists” (which was broadly defined to include ethnic Chinese and basically anyone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time) the government employed civilian thugs, often criminals and gangsters, to do their dirty work for them. The film allowed the men, who freely admit their deeds and are admired and venerated for them in Indonesia, to re-enact their atrocities which they do in the style of Hollywood b-movies of which they were all generally admirers.

The movie raised some questions, particularly after one of the most brutal of the death squad leaders has a sudden epiphany as to the horrible crimes he’d committed, as to whether men like that can be forgiven, whether there is any redemption for them and whether there are crimes so heinous that they simply can’t wipe the stain of them off of their souls.

The question in this follow-up film – not a sequel in the broad sense – has to do more with closure. We meet Adi Rukun, an optometrist whose older brother Ramli was murdered during the takeover; he is watching footage from The Act of Killing of his brother’s smiling murderers describing his murder. In his guise as an optometrist giving them eye tests, he confronts those men, often subtly asking them about their roles in the death squads and asks if they feel any remorse. The results are often stark and sometimes surprising.

We also meet Adi’s parents – a mother whose grief remains as intense 50 years later, and a father who has succumbed to dementia and is blind as well as deaf. He is cared for by Adi’s mother for the most part. It’s not a fate I would wish on anyone but considering what he lived through it might be a kinder one than that of his wife who remembers all of it.

When evil is institutionalized, fear becomes an everyday occurrence. Many of the people who appear in this film do so anonymously; after all, the perpetrators of these crimes are still in power as are their descendents. The closure most of the families of the victims need is likely not to be forthcoming in their lifetimes. Adi and his family were compelled to relocate after the movie came out. Reprisals are not unknown in Indonesia, even today.

Oppenheimer is a masterful documentarian and these two movies will go down as two of the best ever made. These are powerful films that are not for the faint of heart or more accurately, the faint of stomach. The descriptions of acts of atrocity are not only grim but they can be downright nausea-inducing. Nonetheless the two movies make for excellent bookends, looking at these atrocities from the points of view of the murderers and the survivors. I don’t know if Adi Rukun got the closure he wanted – he certainly got something from this venture but I don’t know if it helps him sleep any better. Either way, both movies are must-sees for any lovers of movies and for those who believe in social justice. Together, they will form an eye-opening experience that is absolutely going to be unforgettable for you.

WHY RENT THIS: There are powerful moments of revelation. The beautiful countryside juxtaposes with the brutal events that took place there. The observation of the whitewashing of history in the classrooms is bone chilling. Again we are reminded of man’s capacity for utterly inhuman actions.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The description of the killings can be gruesome and disturbing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content and brief nudity as well as occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, it eventually lost out to Amy.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a Q&A session from the film’s screening at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival, footage from the film’s Indonesian premiere as well as audience reactions to the film and an interview with Oppenheimer about various aspects of production, particularly how the movie (and its predecessor) came to be.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, Google Play,  iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $153,616 on an unknown production budget.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Act of Killing
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Raise Your Kids on Seltzer

Pick of the Litter – July 2015


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Ant-Man

Ant-Man

(Disney/Marvel) Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll. Only two months after their blockbuster success with Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel is right back in the saddle with the final chapter in their Cinematic Universe Phase II. This one is a bit controversial within the fan community as fan favorite director Edgar Wright left the project over the proverbial “creative differences” to be replaced by Peyton Reed (who was also considered for Guardians of the Galaxy by the way). There are those who think that Wright’s version was too funny for Marvel; there are others who think just the opposite. Whatever the reasons are, Ant-Man is an interesting choice at this stage in the Marvel game; one of the original Avengers, he never really took off on his own. Once again it will be curious to see whether he connects with the moviegoing audience – but given Marvel’s track record, it seems the smart money will bet on the House of Ideas coming out ahead. July 17

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Jimmys Hall

Jimmy’s Hall

(Sony Classics) Barry Ward, Francis Magee, Aileen Henry, Simone Kirby. Master director Ken Loach brings to the screen this film based on true events. An Irish political activist who owns a meeting hall wherein political discussion is encouraged, but also (horrors) dancing is forced to flee during the Red Scare of the 1920s. Eventually he returns home from America to care for his ailing mother, vowing to lead a quiet peaceful life but as he sees the cultural oppression brought on by politicians and the Catholic Church, he knows he can remain silent no longer. He reopens the hall, knowing that the repercussions may be devastating. Given the control of our lives seems to rest in the hands of the politicians and evangelical Christians these days, the movie has particular resonance. July 3

10,000 km

10,000 KM

(Broad Green) Natalia Tena, David Verdaguer. A Spanish couple is separated when Alex gets a medical internship in Los Angeles while Sergi is left behind in Barcelona. The two try to keep their romance blossoming over the Internet, but distance can breed divergence. This debut film by Spanish director Carlos Marques-Marcet takes romance to the next level and modernizes it in the age of social media. The movie that has quietly been racking up global critical acclaim and is one of the first American releases by new distributor Broad Green. July 10

Strangerland

Strangerland

(Alchemy) Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Maddison Brown. In this Aussie thriller, a teenage girl disappears and in a small town on the edge of the desert, that is no laughing matter indeed. As her desperate mother tries to find her little girl, the lid is opened on a Pandora’s box of secrets involving her daughter, her husband and her own infidelity. One of the many movies that got a distribution deal out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it has fallen a bit under the radar compared to other bigger profile films but judging on the trailer and the quiet but insistent buzz, this might turn out to be one of the more memorable films from that Festival to make it out into theatrical distribution this year. July 10

The Look of Silence

The Look of Silence

(Drafthouse) Adi, Joshua Oppenheimer. In Indonesia in 1965, a brutal military coup led to the death of a million people, a genocide that even today the government of Indonesia has essentially turned its back on. Some of the atrocities committed during the period were documented in Joshua Oppenheimer’s amazing documentary The Act of Killing which was my number one movie of 2013. Now comes this companion piece in which the family of a victim of that genocide confronts the killers of their family member. July 17

The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment

(IFC) Olivia Thirlby, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Billy Crudup. In 1971, Stanford psychology professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo selected 24 male students to play prison guards and prisoners in a mock prison set up in the basement of the psychology building. The results of that experiment were chilling and had the entire world talking about it. While there have been movies based on the events that took place there, this is the first one to tell the true story of the experiment. This looks to be one of the more intense cinematic experiences of the summer. July 17

A Gay Girl in Damascus The Amina Profile

A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile

(Sundance Selects) Sandra Bagaria, Tom MacMaster. As the Arab Spring picked up steam in that heady days of May 2011, a courageous blogger named Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari started a blog titled A Gay Girl in Damascus began reporting on events there as someone who apparently had intimate knowledge of the organizers of protests in that city. On June 6, 2011, it was reported that Amina had been forcibly abducted from the streets of Damascus by three armed men who took her in a van bearing the name of the President’s brother. An outpouring of protest from international sources put pressure on Syria to release the young lesbian woman. However, the story then took a turn that nobody expected. July 24

Phoenix

Phoenix

(Sundance Selects) Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf, Kirsten Block. At the conclusion of World War II a badly disfigured woman is rescued from the concentration camps and given facial reconstructive surgery. She goes in search of her husband – who may have been the one who betrayed her to the Nazis and now is cooking up a scam to have this woman, who resembles his wife but can’t possibly be her, collect on her inheritance and split the money with him. A stylish thriller in the tradition of Hitchcock from renowned German director Christian Petzold. July 24

Listen to Me Marlon

Listen to Me Marlon

(Showtime) Marlon Brando. One of the greatest actors of his generation, or of any other, was Marlon Brando. This documentary features Brando, from a variety of interviews, talking about his own life and philosophies. Notoriously reticent, these recently discovered tapes are a gold mine and coupled with home movie footage and behind the scenes footage from his great movies, fans and non-fans alike will be able to get a glimpse of one of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th Century completely uninhibited. While this is going to be primarily aired on the Showtime premium cable network, there will also be a brief theatrical release in New York City and possibly elsewhere. July 29

Best of Enemies

Best of Enemies

(Magnolia) William F. Buckley Jr., Gore Vidal, Dick Cavett, John Lithgow. During the 1968 Presidential election, essayist and conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. and novelist, essayist and liberal commentator Gore Vidal were hired to provide political commentary for ABC News. Both men were urbane, literate and patrician but putting them together was like bringing together gasoline and a lit match. The two traded insults and often the insults turned ugly. The two men genuinely disliked one another, but both men reflected the best of their respective ideologies of their day. July 31