It’s pretty hard to make a documentary about a brutal genocide possible, let alone digestible, let alone good. Joshua Oppenheimer managed to do it by interviewing a genocide’s killers in 2013’s The Act of Killing, and has followed it up with a sequel about its victims, in this year’s The Look of Silence. Check out the trailer above if you’re really interested in crying at your desk at work.
What made The Act of Killing so powerful is that eschewed our traditional notions of killer and victim, good and evil. Sure, it’s been done in television and movies a thousand times before, but to explore that concept in a documentary about genocide – where the divisions are so sharply delineated – takes real hard work. The Look of Silence returns to the Indonesian mass killings of the 1960s but instead focuses on its victims, both the people who were murdered, and the families they left behind. Oppenheimer initially focused on the murderers because their stories were, in some ways, easier to document. The killers displayed less fear, a greater willingness to talk. I’d be curious to learn how Oppenheimer was able to get victims to open up about the most painful of traumas in The Look of Silence. Why remember, why retell?
According to Slash Film, the movie tells multiple stories, focusing its attention on Adi Rukun, an optometrist whose brother was slaughtered fifty years ago. About halfway through the trailer, one of the subjects asks his mother – “Mom, how do you feel about living surrounded by your son’s killers?” Errr, I dunno . . . pretty bad? Forgiveness feels too Hollywood. And it’s kinda sorta hard to forget mass murder. I’m not sure how anyone could ever answer that question, but it’s as powerful as it gets, and the central driving force behind this painful broken story.
The Look of Silence opened to nearly universal positive acclaim (duh) at Venice this past summer.