directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
by Bill Chambers Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is devastating because it doesn't offer any moral opposition to the glibly boastful first-hand accounts of Indonesian death squads; and his The Look of Silence is devastating because it does. A B-side to The Act of Killing but no mere Blue in the Face afterthought, The Look of Silence follows Adi, a 44-year-old door-to-door optometrist whose senile father is 103 and whose mother improbably claims to be around the same age. The father has forgotten but the mother has not that Adi was preceded by a brother, Ramli, who was killed during the "communist" purge (the picture reiterates that anyone who didn't immediately fall in line with the military dictatorship was tarred with the same brush, regardless of political or religious affiliation)--though "killed" somehow undersells his execution, a two-day ordeal that culminated in Ramli's castration. Adi watches Oppenheimer's footage of the murderers describing his brother's death in that animated, kids-playing way familiar from The Act of Killing, though these are not the same two "actors" who appeared in that film, underscoring that a desensitization to the atrocities committed has happened on a national, not individual, scale.
Under the pretext of eye appointments, Adi visits village elders, quizzing them on what roles they played during Indonesia's own holocaust; he drops in on a former death-squad leader who's now a powerful politician, goes to see an uncle who oversaw a concentration camp where communists were held prior to being slaughtered en masse at Snake River, and confronts Ramli's killers or the surviving offspring thereof. As an interviewer/interrogator, Adi maintains his cool, but the thoughtful, logical questions he asks are quick to anger his subjects, who turn around and blame "Josh" for double-crossing them because he's no longer just surrendering the proscenium and letting them hang themselves. Why does Adi stir this hornet's nest? A rhetorical question, perhaps, but once we see a gradeschool teacher brainwashing his young students--including Adi's son--with anti-communist propaganda, trying to maintain a lie for another generation, there can be no doubt as to the urgency of his mission. (Oppenheimer cultivates a pivotal motif in the image of unhatched larvae.) While the original perpetrators may be dying off, history is doomed to repetition, and the passive-aggressive threats on Adi's life ("Where did you say you live?") make the numerous credits for "Anonymous" again no longer a darkly funny punchline. If it seems a little conveniently Herzogian that Adi's profession is to help people see better (and Werner returns as executive producer, along with Errol Morris), well, the truth is that all of this feels like a cosmic gift to a documentarian. Unfortunately. Programme: TIFF Docs