Reverse Angle on a Genocide

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Joshua Oppenheimer

In “The Look of Silence” Joshua Oppenheimer’s probing and moving companion piece to his staggering “The Act of Killing,” the filmmaker turns his camera around.

“The Act of Killing” concentrated on bad actors (both senses of the phrase) uninhibitedly re-enacting for the camera the enormous crimes committed during the 1965 Indonesian genocide, performing their roles as if life were a genre film.

In Oppenheimer’s new film, the focus is on those who suffered (and those who continue to suffer–no one has been held accountable for the massacre, there has been no Truth and Reconciliation in Indonesian). One family’s son and brother, Ramli, brutally murdered, represents the more than one million people who were slaughtered by the forces of the military dictatorship which labeled anyone perceived of as a threat as a communist and “godless,” in a religious Muslim culture. And like all survivors, Ramli’s aged and ill parents and a brother, Adi, 44, born two years after His brother’s death, have lived with their grief in silence–the killers are now often in positions of political and economic power and the history has been suppressed.

Adi watches video interviews Oppenheimer shot of the murderers recounting their crimes. Determined to break the nearly 50 years of silence, he confronts ex-Komando Aksi brigade members (including a wealthy politician) and their families, frequently in the course of his work as an optometrist. And with a quiet resolve, Adi demands an accounting. (Although this is a non-fiction film, the metaphor of an optometrist, as one who helps people see, being the revealer of truth, would be too heavy-handed if employed by a filmmaker less skilled and compassionate than Oppenheimer.)

Adi’s beloved mother takes a small measure of comfort in her belief that god will deal appropriately with those who committed the atrocities. Adi, less patient, refuses to accept the murderers’ platitudes (“the past is past,” “we were only following orders”–with its echoes of an earlier genocide), intentional forgetfulness or even the erosion of memories by dementia. With great courage, he pushes for accountability and a change in how his country deals with its long-denied history.

“The Look of Silence” will open on Friday, July 17 at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, followed by a national rollout. Joshua Oppenheimer will give a free talk tonight at 6:30 pm at FSLC’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater. Q&As with Oppenheimer will follow the 7:20 pm and 9:40 pm shows at the Sunshine on Friday, July 17 and Saturday, July 18, and the 4:45 pm and 7:20 pm shows on Sunday, July 19.

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