Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2013 bizarre and masterful documentary “The Act of Killing” took a look at the Indonesian genocide in the 1960s as the men who participated recreated their killings on film. Oppenheimer’s latest, “The Look of Silence” takes a different look at the Indonesian genocide by focusing on the family of one of the victims from the massacre.
Adi Rukun is an optician whose brother, Ramli, was one of the 10,000 people who were slaughtered at the Snake River in 1965 two years before Adi was born. He is a family man whose children are taught propaganda regarding the massacre in school. His father and mother, who are over 100 years old, are struggling with dementia and the fact that their son’s killers hold high-ranking government positions. He decides to travel around the country to give free eye examinations as a way to get his foot in the door so he can confront the men who were responsible for his sibling’s death 50 years ago.
Oppenheimer was making “The Look of Silence” while in the middle of putting together “The Act of Killing.” There are no reenactments this time around except for one sole crucial sequence where two men smile and joke around as they describe how they killed Adi’s brother. This footage becomes sort of a launching pad for Adi to confront and interrogate some of these aging killers.
Oppenheimer never interjects himself into the movie unless it requires him to do so. Such is the case in a scene when he ask Adi what his reaction is to footage the director shot almost a decade ago regarding some explicit details on his brother’s murder. As a filmmaker, he lets Adi become the driving force of the documentary and just rolls the camera as Adi calmly interviews some of these psychopaths.
These conversations range from disturbing (one of the men admits to drinking the blood of their victims) to hostile (a former death squad commander says bluntly that “if you try to bring it up, it will happen again”). There is one unbearable and heartbreaking scene where the daughter of a murderer Adi confronts is clearly disturbed when her father freely admits to the accusations Adi throws at him. Each of the men Adi talks who participated in the mass killings keep insisting that “the past is the past” and that were following orders. However, it becomes clear that some of them enjoyed killing and use their order as an excuse to kill those who were deemed “communists.”
“The Look of Silence” is another haunting and wrenching documentary from Oppenheimer that proves a brave soul such as Adi could face evil in the eye and ask the questions most would be afraid to ask.
“The Look of Silence” is now playing at the O Cinema Miami Shores.