25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars... shocking and revolting
"The Act of Killing" (2013 release; 115 min.) is a documentary from writer-director Joshua Oppenheimer who sets out to interview/expose several of the "evil-doers" behind the mass killings that took place in Indonesia in 1965-66. As the documentary opens, we get to know Anwar Congo, one of those directly involved in these killings. Anwar and several of his croonies have...
Published 15 months ago by Paul Allaer
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars INTERESTING
The really shocking aspect of this is that it exposes 'ordinary' people committing extraordinary crimes with almost nonchalance. It's drama documentary style so has limited entertainment value but if you want an insight into this horrific period of Indonesian history watch this film.
Published 5 months ago by james
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars... shocking and revolting,
"The Act of Killing" (2013 release; 115 min.) is a documentary from writer-director Joshua Oppenheimer who sets out to interview/expose several of the "evil-doers" behind the mass killings that took place in Indonesia in 1965-66. As the documentary opens, we get to know Anwar Congo, one of those directly involved in these killings. Anwar and several of his croonies have decided, apparently with some coaxing and suggesting from Oppenheimer, to make a movie about the events from 65-66, so as to make sure everyone knows what really happened, including how exactly these killings were executed.
Several comments: first and foremost, in what kind of a world do we live in that these mass-murderers boast about what they did in the mid-60s without any fear of apprehension, let alone any regret over what they did? To the contrary, we see Anwar Congo and his croonies making the rounds of various media, including a national TV show, where the host merrily goes along. Likewise with Indonesia's politicians at the highest levels. Here is a Indonesian Vice-President addressing the Pancasila paramilitary oraganzation that did much of the killings in the mid-60s, there is the Minister of Information showing support for the making of the film, and on and on. It simple blows the mind. Second, it must be that these killers truly have no inkling why Oppenheimer is making this documentary, as they are on a very friendly and first-name basis with Oppenheimer throughout the movie. Third, the re-enactments make for difficult movie-watching at times, in particular the further we get into the movie. This is most definitely not for the faint of heart, so viewer beware.
I saw this movie just this past weekend at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles, and the particular matinee showing I was at was very well attended, somewhat of a surprise to me, given the subject matter of this movie. The showing actually started with "A special announcement from director Joshua Oppenheimer", in which Oppenheimer introduces the movie and concludes "I won't say 'enjoy the film' as it's not necessarily that kind of a movie, but I would hope that you have a powerful movie experience", and that is certainly is, and then some! This movie is one of the more usual documentaries I have seen in a long time. Assuming you can handle the at times schocking and always revolting characters we get to know in the movie, this is definitely a movie you want to (need to) see, be it at home or in the theatre.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking, Heartbreaking and simply extraordinary documentary.,
It is quite unusual to come across a piece of film making that owes so little to what has gone before, it has to be absolutely unique. This is essentially a documentary about the Indonesian killing squads from the 1960's and what they did, but with them re-enacting their deeds.
The `gangsters' are all Hollywood movie fans and so Director and visionary Joshua Oppenheimer invites these men to make their own films about what they did. They can use any medium they like. So we have exotic dancers emerging from the mouth of a wooden fish building. Actors parading in front of a waterfall pretending to be in heaven and a re-enactment of a village massacre, to name but three. Plus the obligatory scenes of torture and execution, with some bizarre make up in places. I do not know how he got these men to talk about what they did or to show in such graphic detail.
I often make notes if I am going to write a review, normally only a few sentences, but I wrote two pages on this. The main guy is Anwar Congo who shows us his Hollywood inspired garrotting and dyes his hair especially for the re-enactments. They all talk with disarming frankness about their crimes insisting that they, as gangsters, were always going to be better than communists.
They ignore the contradiction with Islam being into drugs, alcohol, mass murder etc. They still extort the ethnic Chinese and were content to be filmed doing this. They strut around with impunity and some of the scenes they get people to act for them and they all seem to be genuinely terrified, especially the children. One of them keeps dressing up as his women victims in a grotesque parody of what really must have taken place. There is some remorse but to say too little, too late, is obviously not enough. They experience a tiny fraction of what they did to others and claim to be able to empathise, until its pointed out that they know they are not going to be actually tortured to death.
So `meet the killers' would be a good alternative title, but I was left moved, disturbed and horrified in equal amounts and yet still amazed that this could all be true. An astonishing accomplishment that anyone seriously interested in film should see. It has haunted me since seeing it and I have been telling everyone about it. This ranks in my top five most disturbing films and the others are all fiction, this was sadly real.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary. Uncomfortable. Surreal. Haunting. Thought-provoking.,
This review is from: The Act of Killing [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Extraordinary. Uncomfortable. Surreal. Haunting. Thought-provoking.
VICE did something similar with trying to get the perspective from an actual cannibal, but I've never seen anything done to quite this level. The relativity of morality, how some of these executioners use Hollywood movies for inspiration, demonization of a people to make for justifiable extermination of millions, and the hurt of propaganda for future generations, are only worsened when no justice has been done ever since. From the documentary, Indonesia comes off as the wild west run by gangsters (i.e. free men).
The most important documentary of this year, if not this generation.
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of those rare films which will stay in your mind long after you've seen it.,
"All murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers, and to the sound of trumpets", a quote from Voltaire is quickly followed by a shot of a giant fish with women dancers emerging from its mouth, plus a priest and a drag-queen in a day-glo blue dress. Within seconds, you've witnessed the surreal and disturbing essence of Joshua Oppenheimer's new documentary film `The Act of Killing'.
In mid 60′s Indonesia, a failed coup led to more than a million people being slaughtered in a bloody anti-communist cull. Many of the killings were carried out by paramilitaries and gangsters hired by the government, who have not only escaped prosecution, but are still seen as local heroes who collectively control much of Indonesia. Oppenheimer manages to convice these gangsters not just to interviews, but to re-enact their atrocities with the artistic licence to "create scenes about the killings in whatever way they wished". Not only were these gangsters only too happy to do it, Oppenheimer gives them more than enough rope to hang themselves.
We witness shocking stories from many despicable men, each worse than the last, but mostly concentrating on Anwar Congo. This sprightly 70-year old gangster could pass for an Indonesian Nelson Mandela, with his fuzzy white hair and taste in gaudily coloured shirts. His side-kick Herman Coto is more of a buffoon, and opts to dress in drag for the film, but you wouldn't mess with him. We meet a newspaper publisher who happily lied and sent innocent people to their death, the still celebrated paramilitary organisation Pancasila Youth that wiped out thousands of Chinese citizens, to many other graphic stories of guilt-free gangsters murdering and raping whoever they wanted to. We see re-enactments of specific torture and killing techniques, inspired by their favourite Hollywood gangster films, westerns, and war movies.
As if rehashes of old Hollywood films were not disturbing enough, musicals were given even more artistic licence with some of the most surreal scenes ever put to film. These same gangsters were celebrated by the government as "free men" who didnt fit within the normal restrictions of society. They in turn live up to their "Relax and Rolex" mythology, their status is embodied by an iconic song with the most ironic reference you could possibly imagine, i'm still lost for words whenever i think about it.
We hear countless philosophical discussions between the men on their roles in society, and the things that no other men would or could do. Hollywood films changed the way these men perceived themselves. Their sadism was no longer part of their true identity, but part of an identity they copied and mythologised, creating a barrier against feeling remorse. Through his experiences re-enacting their horrific crimes, Congo thinks he understood what his victims had felt before they were killed.
One of the many shocking scenes in this film is the recreation of an attack upon a village in which families were burned out of their homes and butchered, an uncomfortable situation since it bordered on the exploitative not just from the gangsters but the filmmaker. This is the point where we witness evil at its most inhumane, where men with no guilt or conscience openly salivate over raping 14 year old girls and other unspeakable things. But something does change inside the minds of these gangster `actors'. A witness states "I never thought it would look so bad", who you would assume never shied away from committing murder in the past but somehow flinches upon a fictional re-creation.
We see the likes of Congo physically repulsed by their actions, but how long will this last when the whole country seems to be stunned into silence? This is the same country where the same gangsters appeared on a chat show to talk openly about the film and were met with cheers from the audience for the atrocities they committed. By the end of the film you assume its a film made in bad taste or a spoof, but depressingly this is Indonesia today and now. We all want to see justice, but self-doubt is all we see and all we may ever see.
Its going to be hard for any other film in 2013 to top the outstanding `The Act of Killing', revelatory documentary filmmaking which will often leave you speechless or want to hide behind your seat. Its one of those rare films which will stay in your mind long after you've seen it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review: The Act of Killing, DVD,
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"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." Milan Kundera
As soon as I heard about The Act of Killing, I pre-ordered the DVD, and subsequently watched it as soon as it was delivered. I've now watched both the theatrical release and the director's cut, leaving about a month in between to catch my breath.
The other reviews on this page are highly commendable, and I'd especially like to thank Tommy Dooley, Paul Allaer, dipesh parmar and Stephen C. Rife for sharing their thoughts about the film. I want to respond to some points these reviewers have made by way of clarifying what's going on here. Firstly, Joshua Oppenheimer did not set out to make an expose of the perpetrators of the Indonesian killings of 1965-66; rather he was interested in telling the story of the victims and their families. But he found his path in that direction obstructed. It was almost by accident that he stumbled upon his subject, finding the perpetrators of this massacre all too willing to talk about what they had done. The director had the brains and the guts to follow up and, after consulting with human rights groups, decided to switch his focus to a group of perpetrators for two reasons: he was able to establish easy access, and because he realised that this angle was going to reveal something not just about what happened forty-five years ago, but also a great deal about contemporary Indonesian politics and society, the legacy of the events of 65-66 as it were. So yes, this is a "meet the killers" documentary, but it's a lot more than that -- it's a meditation on killing, an interrogation of killers' motives, and an exploration of modern Indonesian society all rolled into one. A lot has been made of the unusual, indeed unique, methodology of the film whereby the subjects have been given free rein to re-enact their crimes, sometimes in the most extraordinarily weird, imaginative, and explicit way. The genius of Oppenheimer's approach was not to get them to do all this, but to catch the moments in between: the asides, the reflections, and the emotion. The filmmaker is not passive -- he makes pointed remarks himself sometimes, and also asks awkward questions -- but on the whole he stands back in the documentary and lets his subjects appear to be in control. Only one of the subjects ever realises what Oppenheimer's true motives were in allowing them this freedom, and I'll come on to him below; otherwise they carry on blissfully deluded about what they are doing. Of course, they are trying to come to terms with the past, albeit it in a totally confused way.
Before talking a bit more about the gang in question it's necessary to address the vital subject of context. This documentary does not really attempt to explain why the Indonesian massacre irrupted in 1965; there is no back story. Stephen C. Rife makes a valid critical remark: "A broader view might have been more appropriate, and context, provided primarily by an opening text, is wanting..." Although true, I think this is an unfair criticism in a way because the filmmaker had to make a decision about what his documentary was going to be about, and as his title suggests, this film is about killing and not about political context as such. Rife's argument is well taken though -- it is vital to understand why the Indonesian massacre happened. The back story has a lot to do with Cold War politics and the entirely machiavellian nature of post-war Anglo-American foreign policy. The trigger to the massacre was apparently an attempted coup d'etat and execution of six generals by a faction within Indonesia's military. The events surrounding this coup are very murky and it's not clear who was doing what or why. However, after the coup Suharto moved very quickly to take control of the country by eliminating the Indonesian Communist Party and left-leaning President Sukarno. An anti-communist blood bath followed, directly organised by the military and supported by the US and the UK. A very good book to read on this topic is "Constructive Bloodbath in Indonesia, The United States, Britain and the Mass Killings of 1965-66" (2009), by Nathanial Mehr. Judging by what he says in interviews, it's obvious that Joshua Oppenheimer has read this book and is therefore personally familiar with the whole context of what happened in Indonesia, and why it happened; his documentary's narrative does not go into all this because there's no time for it. As an aside, I want to say that I personally believe the Indonesian military attempted coup of '65 was directly planned by the CIA -- all the circumstantial evidence suggests as much, and therefore the US is even more culpable for the massacre than is generally supposed. Certainly there is hard evidence to show that both the United States and Britain aided and abetted the massacre and did absolutely nothing to stop it; on the contrary, they stood back and applauded the results, their multinational corporations stepping to share the spoils after Suharto had firmly established himself in power by wiping out the very people who may have resisted neo-colonialism. The massacre, as so many like it around the world, thus had much to do with the securing of resources. The Indonesian military, finding the killing of large numbers of people hard work, enlisted gangsters and Muslim youth and paramilitary groups to help do their atrocious deeds -- we may never know how many were killed, but half a million is a safe estimate. It was a ferocious pogrom.
Enter Anwar Congo, Herman Kota (a junior gang member), and Adi Zulkadry, Congo and Zulkadry just two of the many gangsters enlisted by the Indonesian military to do their dirty work in the sixties. These two individuals talk with an alarming frankness about their past murdering, still valorised by pro-Suharto elements within Indonesia today. What emerges clearly here is that both historically and today the perpetrators believed that there was nothing wrong with killing a "communist." Of course, this belief, prevalent also in the United States, is totally wrong -- to kill someone because they're a communist is like killing someone because they are a Jew, or because they are left-handed; it is extreme pathological discrimination based on an arbitrary category. But no one gets it in this film: all the participants justify their past crimes in terms of anti-communism. Some of the most interesting, and disturbing, sequences in this documentary occur when Anwar introduces us to his patrons past and present, namely a newspaper proprietor who helped identify targets in 1965-66, the present governor of Northern Sumatra, and the neo-fascist Pancasila Youth paramilitary organisation, all of whom still unquestioningly believe that the killings of the mid-sixties were entirely justified in the name of anti-communism. Even when the gangsters question anti-communist propaganda, even when they know it this propaganda was false, they still cling to the deluded belief that it was okay to do what they did because they were killing "communists". "Beating people up is sometimes needed", says an Indonesian vice president at a Pancasila rally reminiscent of Nazi rallies in the 1930s, only this was filmed not in the 1930s, or the 1960s, but by Joshua Oppenheimer in contemporary Indonesia.
A lot of commentary has centred on Anwar Congo, who I suppose is the "star" of this documentary. Congo is central to the film because in a way he is the one who is making it all happen; he is the one who is trying to come to terms with what he did, albeit in a very confused way: he knows it was wrong to kill, but he is convinced it was necessary to kill communists, "My conscience told me that they had to be killed..", Congo says, lying to himself yet again. Anwar is quite charismatic, and he has a lot of authority among his peers because he killed so many. For me though, Adi Zulkadry, one of Anwar Congo's associates, is the most interesting subject insofar as he is probably a more typical perpetrator type; at least he is less likely to go into convolutions about what he did, and he knows very well that in re-enacting torture and murder the gang are playing dangerously with official history -- he is the only one who has some inkling of what the repercussions of their filming may be in the wider world: "This film will disprove all our propaganda about the communists..", says Adi at one point, very pertinently. Adi has no appealing qualities: he is an out and out coward and a thug; he has no remorse for what he did in the past, and what he did included stabbing to death his girlfriend's father, and other Chinese people, because they were...Chinese?...no, no, because they were communists, of course. Adi also repeats the cliché that it's the winners who write history and heck the Americans killed the Indians when they got in the way, just like we had to kill a bunch of commies...Perhaps the saddest sequence in this film is the one of Adi Zulkadry walking through a sterile shopping mall with his innocent wife and daughter, himself somewhat distracted and disinterested, every bit the smug, chauvinist patriarch. As for Herman Koto, he is almost too pathetic to be taken seriously, but here he is one minute extorting money from Chinese traders in a market, the next minute standing for elected office simply so he can rake in more money selling building licenses. For these gangsters at the dirty end in 1965 it was always about the money -- Aldi confirms this in a moment of reflection it would be easy to miss. The one question Oppenheimer didn't ask Anwar, which I would have asked, is "How much did you get paid to do this?"
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most compelling films I've ever seen,
This review is from: The Act of Killing [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
From start to finish I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I was totally transfixed by what I saw. Brutal and surreal at the same time, The Act of Killing recounts the genocide which took place in Indonesia in 1965 where, by some accounts, over a million ethnic Chinese and alleged communists were brutally massacred after a failed coup. The, now old, perpetrators reenact the murders with remorseless glee and are lauded as heroes on national TV. There's a particularly bizarre scene where these mass-murderers are interviewed, to applause and reverie, on Indonesia's equivalent of The One Show. Frightening stuff. Incredulous really. The film was screened at the Berlin Film Festival and afterwards someone said it was like watching the Nazis reenact The Holocaust. The director Joshua Oppenheimer said this comparison was wrong because, unlike the Nazis, the perpetrators of the 1965 mass genocide did not lose the war and are still in power. More frightening than any horror or thriller because this isn't fiction. This is reality.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling,
This review is from: The Act of Killing (DVD)
Absolutely compelling film, I couldn't stop watching, at times literally open mouthed and chilled, at the performances the director has extracted from these killers. The film truly is an original for its mixture of reality and surrealism, its exploration and exposure of the act of killing. I urge you to watch the extras too, especially the interview with the Director (albeit on a US show interspersed with ads).
I am so glad I ignored my initial instinct to bypass this, which would have been based on the grounds of overhype and a slamming review in a well regarded paper. I would have missed a near masterpiece.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Act of Retching,
There is a thin line to most degrees of feeling, debate and procedure. The Act of Killing walks theses lines very skillfully but for me swaggers a little every now and then with questions left unjustly answered. We know that the atrocities that took place were insufferable and unforgiving and yet we are dealt an account of these events in a very fickle and intimidating way that was most unsettling. I mean surely these tyrants should be locked up by now..at least! instead of making some kind of surreal(though it only trades this kind of thing in garish make up scenes and pantomime type tomfoolery), almost insolent documentary. There is a glimmer of remorse etched over Anwar's face in one scene and a retching scene so sentient and provocative that it bares the question: Did these men ever truly feel for what they had done? Or had they become too stricken with immoral practices to really know what they were suppose to feel? Were their lives merely some kind of waiting room to hell.
Although not overwhelmed by The Act of Killing it is extremely intriguing and open to plenty of post discussion. Essential and ground breaking viewing that probably brings out my own insecurities and nativities about the world around me. These pseudo-gangsters make their own propaganda that starts to feel inherently wrong, there are scenes of great power here and I am all for unconventional story telling and creative flaunting in telling an educational and controversial tale but this has 'one time watch' written all over it. A strange, conceited beast lying in a heart of darkness that stuns the viewer. I am normally very open and strong willed but this is that rare occasion the line 'i felt like having a bath after watching it' came to fruition.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary,
This is one of those films that stays with you. A thought-provoking, surreal, disturbing, incredibly interesting and unique experience. A character study of sorts, this documentary is beautifully shot and completely justifies the length of the director's cut.
It's the most incredibly moving and powerful documentary or even film that I think I have ever watched.
Just watch it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, Artful Documentary,
An extraordinary achievement, as so many have already remarked; alternately chilling, humorous, poetic, and moving. Some quibbles, however. The focus is largely on two gangsters involved in Indonesia's (British and US-backed) campaign of terror in the mid-60s, though Oppenheimer has stated he interviewed some 50 similar subjects. A broader view might have been more appropriate, and context, provided primarily by an opening text, is wanting, particularly for younger Western viewers (this is the writing of history, after all). For example, we never hear of the 30 September Movement with its kidnapping and killing of six generals, precipitating Suharto's own coup, and the anti-PKI pogrom. Granted, a famed propaganda film, apparently portraying the assassinations, is seen in The Act of Killing's longer version, but its extremely important (if profoundly skewed) narrative is left unexplained. Also, the trailer for `Killing claims "We challenge [the subjects] to act out their memories of murder," but the challenge is the subjects' own. If it weren't, if Oppenheimer and his local crew applied any pressure whatever on the thugs that are the stars of the film (and of Indonesia's anti-communist culture), then this astonishing film in all likelihood would have been impossible. Certainly none of the boastfulness and desperation of expression would be in evidence. Nor would it be quite accurate to say the camera is a distancing device - that its warping and simplification of events somehow alleviates the weight of culpability these individuals have managed to shrug off publicly for decades, since the genocide of 65'-66' that inaugurated the Suharto regime. The willingness of the subjects to appear on camera and have their criminality documented is in fact startling. (In one segment the camera follows several members of the paramilitary Pancasila Youth as they shake down Chinese immigrant merchants, openly extorting money from each.) Concerning the Hollywood-style `reenactments', the imported artwork has been taken to heart, then reified through crude staging. Refracted through local life and history, the resulting imagery is simultaneously familiar in its genre elements and hellishly foreign in its playful irreverence and morbidity. Anwar Congo, a celebrated killer of "about one thousand," recalls that after a particularly upbeat American film at the cinema where he used to scalp tickets, he would re-enter the world as if in a musical, returning to the interrogation center to kill "happily." We survey a large collection of "extremely limited" crystal figurines - among them Tinkerbell - in one former executioner's opulent home, an aging gangster savoring the benefits of State-sponsored terror. In another mansion, belonging to the head of the death-squad supplying Pancasila Youth, we see diorama after diorama of stuffed exotic animals, and a room devoted to Hollywood memorabilia (Brian De Palma's Scarface figures prominently).
The staged scenes that break up the film's more direct reportage are conceived individually, as set pieces with little apparent coherence or timeline (with the exception of one grand, Vincente Minnelli-style finale, in which Anwar is thanked by his victims). The gangster-stars of these surreal vignettes fluidly switch roles from perpetrator to victim, from wounded soldiers and cowboys to showgirls, suited gangsters, and vengeful spirits. The effect is disarmingly fresh and horrific, and one can immediately see the project's appeal to Herzog (one of the project's executive producers). When Oppenheimer presented the film recently at the Walker Art Center, both the domestic theatrical release and international release versions were shown, on consecutive evenings. While the longer version (some 45 minutes longer) contains some useful contextual information and a number of longer inter-views with the subjects, I would recommend the shorter, 115 minute version if you happen to catch `Killing before it leaves theaters (undoubtedly its best viewing context). This is not because the viewer is spared additional horror/s - the longer version is in fact more personable and easier to digest - but because of a number of editing and shot choices that I found superior. The most striking of these comes at the film's close, when Anwar visits for a second time the former interrogation center that, in an early scene, he danced on the terrace of (in effect the building's killing floor), but now assays with a new humility, despair, and psychosomatic nausea. In the international version the scene closes with the image of Anwar in the process of leaving the space, paused on a stairway landing between the open-air terrace and the ground floor - essentially caught in the throat of the building between past and present, recognition and escape. The shorter version of the film closes with a longer version of the scene. After pausing on the landing, we cut to a full shot on the ground floor and pan from the bottom of the stairs toward the building's entrance. As Anwar walks away from the camera toward the door it becomes clear that the former interrogation center is now a shop, the walls on either side festooned with hundreds of gaudy handbags - a supreme image of the victory of Suharto's New Order `reforms'.
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The Act of Killing [Blu-ray] by Joshua Oppenheimer (Blu-ray - 2013)