Friday, 24 July 2015

THE LOOK OF SILENCE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Powerful, important, deeply moving and utterly chilling companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing"

The Look of Silence (2014)
Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A sure-fire way to avoid insanity after killing someone is to collect a couple of cupfuls of the victim's blood as it gushes from their jugular, then drink it all down: hot, steaming, sweet, salty and savoury.

If, after repeatedly hacking someone with a machete, and they're still alive, cut off their penis.

If you're interested in merely killing someone and not torturing them, feel free to hack off a woman's breast before she's dead in order to examine what it looks like.

These are a few words of wisdom imparted by men who, with smiles on their faces and infused with great pride, contributed to the wholesale slaughter of over one million innocent people during a foul genocide perpetrated some 50-years-ago.

Yup, you guessed it, Joshua Oppenheimer, the documentarian with the art of filmmaking hardwired into his very DNA is back in town and I steadfastly deliver you this following iron-clad guarantee:

You have not seen, nor will you ever see a movie like The Look of Silence. Never. Ever. Unless, of course, you've seen The Act of Killing, to which this film is a companion piece and one in which I made a similar guarantee when I reviewed that earlier work.

The Look of Silence proves to be an equally brave and cinematically brilliant look at the violent 1965 aftermath to the fall of Sukarno in Indonesia when the country shifted to a military dictatorship. Indonesians who opposed the new government were accused of being communists - a crime punishable by death. In less than a year with aid from the west, most of it from America (naturally), over one million "communists" were murdered.

Yes, many of the victims were communists, but so many others were simply labelled as such to justify killing them. Though the killings were sanctioned by the army, they were, in fact, carried out by civilian militias - squads of bloodthirsty garden variety psychopaths eager to taste blood for the "good" of their country.

The only serious and good dramatic feature film to focus on the beginnings of this tragedy is Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt in her brilliant Academy Award winning gender bending performance. Not that it's a factual document or anything, but it's a stylish fact-based fictional look at the events leading up to the genocide, placing things in a digestible manner. Given how sickeningly powerful Oppenheimer's documentaries are, the Weir picture isn't at all a bad place to begin before diving headlong into the horrors of both The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

Kudos are to be extended to Oppenheimer for creating an equally affecting companion piece that can work just fine as a stand-alone piece, bringing a completely new perspective to the tragedy. His first film on this subject focused the killers. Here, we focus on the victims.

Oppenheimer pulls out all the stops on his filmmaking prowess as an original cinematic storyteller by following Adi, a young 40-something travelling optician whose older brother was butchered during the genocide. Adi's route to offer eye examinations and to sell glasses takes him into the homes of the still-living killers (still feared, all rich and revered by the government as heroes) where he checks their eyesight and probes them about their parts in the genocide. If you want it, metaphor and irony abound in this odd tag-team of eye exams and hardline questioning, but for most, the story and the storytelling here will be the overriding element.

The look of a brother
Oppenheimer bounces between Adi watching interview footage with the various killers in the district (including those men describing gleefully how they murdered Adi's brother) and Adi on the road, confronting the same men he's seen in the videos. In most cases, these confrontations are chilling, the killers dropping unsubtle hints that Adi might be a communist himself and in need of extermination.

His Mother and wife are both terrified for Adi, but also for themselves and Adi's children. Adi's Mother lives everyday with the horror and pain of her son's murder while taking care of her blind, infirm husband whose own memories have been erased by the onset of senility.

The look of a killer
Adi, however, is a man obsessed. He's driven to ask the questions about the brother he never knew. He MUST ask the questions nobody dares to ask. At one point, a killer is so upset with Adi's questions - often relating to morality, culpability and guilt - that the sleaze bucket points out that not even Joshua with his interviewer cap on ever asked such penetrating questions. Oppenheimer, of course, intentionally kept a cool distance in his previous film to allow the killers a chance to "hang" themselves with their bragging, but here, he keeps another form of distance altogether to tell a story - that of Adi's powerful journey to confront the killers of his brother.

This is highly potent and explosive material and once again, Oppenheimer delivers a motion picture that's not only an important document of history, but a magnificent, harrowing and consummate work of art. The fact of the matter is this - most documentary filmmakers are not filmmakers. They're journalists and/or committed activists wanting to present a point of view with respect to information and/or interesting subjects. Oppenheimer transcends those staid notions of documentarians, though. He's a genuine filmmaker, an artist of the highest order. His work is not ephemeral in the least and will survive long, long after he and the rest of us are six feet under.

Though The Look of Silence lives now, it will, most importantly, live forever.


The Look of Silence begins its theatrical release in Canada at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto via Blue Ice Docs.