The Look of Silence

"Extraordinary"

The Look of Silence Review


After his award-winning 2013 documentary The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer is back with a companion piece that takes a strikingly personal approach to the same event. While the first film explored Indonesia's brutal 1965-66 purges through the eyes of the murderers themselves, this film looks from the victims' perspective. So watching it is a much more emotional experience, especially since it feels even more urgently resonant.

After the death squads finished murdering anyone they decided could be labelled as "communist" (more than a million died), the killers took over the country and are still in power today, regarded as national heroes. Born after the purges, 44-year-old optician Adi Rukun decides to find out the details about the death of his older brother Ramli. But when he starts asking questions, everyone tells him that he should stop opening old wounds and let the past lie. Entering their homes to offer eye exams, he has a chance to talk to a range of former death squad leaders, including 72-year-old Inong, who doesn't understand why people are still afraid of him now, even as he keeps telling stories about drinking his victims' blood. But these are the kinds of stories that enforce Adi's desire to talk openly about what has gone unspoken for far too long.

The bold approach Adi takes is seriously unnerving, as he refuses to let these men off the hook, confronting them with their war crimes. His mother Rohani thinks it's enough that these murderers will suffer in the afterlife. Then Adi tells her that her 82-year-old brother was a prison guard involved in her son's murder, and she finally snaps. Each of Adi's conversations is packed with tension and shocking revelations, including a man who unknowingly re-enacts Ramli's horrific murder and a woman who defends her father until she hears him bragging about the hideous things he did.

Oppenheimer assembles all of this with a gentle narrative pace, unpicking the story until the full picture emerges of a population that has been brutalised into silence. With his largely anonymous crew, Oppenheimer also vividly captures the daily details of Adi's life, including his desire to find the truth to counter the lies his children are told in school, because the purges are still officially considered to be a triumph over the "evil" communists. And Adi's ultimate problem is that he can't forgive his brother's killers if they're unable to show any regret.

"America taught us to hate communists," says death squad leader Siahaan. "This was our heroic struggle. We deserve a prize for what we did." And Oppenheimer replies by observing, "I felt like I'd wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, only to find the Nazis still in power." The world needs more filmmakers like Oppenheimer who are determined to face the truth in the hopes of not repeating history.

Watch the trailer for The Look Of Silence:



The Look of Silence

Facts and Figures

Genre: Documentaries

Run time: 99 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 13th November 2014

Distributed by: Drafthouse Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 8.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: Signe Byrge Sorensen

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