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The Look of Silence

Posted by martinteller on March 14, 2016

We’ve been binging on the show “Hannibal” lately. More like hate-watching, for a bunch of reasons I won’t get into. But one of the reasons is that the show came out of the gate with absurd levels of gore (although apparently Botticelli’s naked ladies have to be blurred out because painted depictions of nipples and vaginas are disgusting, right?) and has to keep upping the ante in order to keep being “disturbing”.

Not one thing in that show is half as disturbing as this documentary. Because where the killers in “Hannibal” usually have some ridiculously complicated psychology behind their actions, the Indonesian paramilitary Komando Aksi are real, and they don’t explain away their murders as a love of mushrooms or some such nonsense. It seems rather that they killed simply because they could, because the military stood behind them and allowed them to purge the country of “communists”.

This is of course Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to The Act of Killing. It does not have the same surreal flourishes as its predecessor (though it is exceptionally well-shot). It may, in fact, feel redundant to some. We see again that these killers have no remorse, or if they do, they are burying it under deep layers of justification. They will happily discuss the nature of their killings, but get cagey when pressed on why they did it, how they feel about it, or why they didn’t try to stop it.

The film mostly centers around Adi, the brother of a man whose murder was particularly savage. Adi confronts (gently… like the softer version of Kenzo Okuzaki in The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On) those who participated in or were aware of his brother’s killing. He’s an optometrist, an almost too-poetic touch as he tries to bring some clarity to the situation. What he and Oppenheimer reveal is our awful capacity for unspeakable violence and the rationalization of it. And it also probes our capacity for forgiveness, and how we attempt to make sense of an insane world.

While this may not bring anything new to the overall picture of Act of Killing, its more personal approach makes it just as engaging. And it’s just as chilling. Rating: Great (90)


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