#NYFF52, The Look Of Silence: Killers See Their Deeds With Fresh Eyes

October 1, 2014 | Rhett Jones

ANIMAL will be bringing you continuing coverage from the New York Film Festival which runs Sep 26 – Oct 12 at Film Society of Lincoln Center. The Look of Silence plays Wednesday, October 1st at 9:00pm.

The Look of Silence is a very disturbing documentary about the victims and perpetrators of communist-purging mass killings in Indonesia. It’s about the silence of those who were wronged and the people who remain in power at least partially because no one speaks out against them.

Joshua Oppenheimer previously covered this subject in his award-winning doc The Act Of Killing. That film gained a lot of attention for its surreal approach. Speaking with the men who personally helped the Indonesian government murder more than 500,000 people, Oppenheimer asked them to re-enact the murders in elaborately staged scenes with gangster tropes. They laugh as they tell stories about cutting people open and spilling their organs. These psychopaths still run the country.

If the primary focus of The Act Of Killing was on the murderers, this time Oppenheimer focuses on the victims. Specifically, the family of optometrist Adi Rukun whose brother was killed in a horrific manner by one of the subjects of the first film. He regularly visits his elderly parents and tries to talk to them about the murders, but they prefer not to, out of pain but also fear. No one wants to talk about it.

We see a scene at a schoolhouse and it’s made perfectly clear that the Indonesian school system teaches a completely different story to children about what happened in the ’60s. Runkun has to tell his own daughter that what they say in school is a lie and the current politicians are mad men.

In a remarkable series of interviews, Oppenheimer takes Runkun to the men previously interviewed in The Act Of Killing. Because Runkun is an optometrist, these interviews are arranged as appointments to fit the killers with glasses. As Runkun gives them each eye tests, he probes them on what they did in the ’60s, slowly making his way towards telling them that they are responsible for his brother’s murder.

Each man reacts differently. They’re all old and some might be a little senile. One says he won’t talk about political things anymore. Another is indignant and makes veiled threats. But the most powerful episode is when he speaks to a killer with his daughter present. She seems genuinely shocked to hear what her father did. She tells her father to shut up. She tells Runkun that he is part of their family now.

The apology seems to be what Runkun was looking for. The whole time he just wants one person to express some sort of regret. The Look Of Silence pulls a lot of it’s power from the fact that in a country where no one says anything, just saying “I’m sorry” can be life-altering.

CHEAT SHEET: If you don’t manage to get tickets to the NYFF and you need to talk about it in conversation, here’s what to say:

– “I can’t believe these guys still talk to Oppenheimer after the first movie, they looked insane.”
– “It’s not as weird but it’s probably better than The Act Of Killing.”