MovieMaker Editor’s Weekend Pick: The Act of Killing
by Lara Colocino and Kelly Leow

Two MovieMaker editors talk about their favorite moments in Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, a shockingly unique record of Indonesian executioner Anwar Congo.

the act of killing

Lara Colocino, Special Projects Editor:

Anwar Congo is a cinephile. He excitedly notes his admiration for John Wayne, Al Pacino, and Marlon Brando, perverting their filmic personas in the process of making them his own. What were in their hands mere fictionalized characters, living only on the screen, are now incarnate in a ruthless killer who boasts unabashedly about his work – the executing of a thousand lives. As the star of Oppenheimer’s documentary, Anwar leaps at the opportunity to archive his history as some sort of perverse epic—a musical of sorts with dancing, fantasy, and stark realism. His envisioned film features Indonesian showgirls dancing in front of exotic backgrounds, gangsters wearing crisp suits and chain smoking in a noir scene, and elements of humor (his sidekick, Herman, constantly dressed in drag). Yet in recreating his past, Anwar’s façade slowly begins to crack, realizing the magnitude of the atrocity he participated in. The true horror of Anwar’s actions become clearer when Anwar plays the part of a prisoner destined for death during an interrogation scene. He is visibly shaken by the pretense of being killed—by his chosen method, in fact (choking victims with a thin metal wire). Upon watching the clip of his murder, he wonders aloud if his victims felt as much fear and pain as he did. Oppenheimer replies, cautiously, that Anwar’s victims felt more than a simulated death could ever impart. A confused Anwar stares off into space, contemplating this fact in silence – or perhaps even disregarding it completely. Whether this delusion stems from a place of protection or total ignorance is unknown. The moment is bleakly open-ended: Oppenheimer attempts, perhaps to no avail, to find a place for remorse in the life of a government-sanctioned killer.

the act of killing

Kelly Leow, Associate Editor:

Adi, Anwar’s former colleague, is a fascinating figure. With his unassuming, bland expression and glasses, he often comes across as the most lucid and rational of the film’s main subjects – he possesses none of the flash and pomp of the colorful, larger-than-life Anwar and Herman. Yet it is precisely this quiet logic that makes him so absolutely horrifying in scene after scene of calm, guiltless recounting of his former deeds. In one small moment mid-film, Adi and Anwar are prepping on one of their sets (a rattan room with a table at which the gangsters are interrogating a communist, played by Anwar’s neighbor). A journalist who used to work in the same building as them in the ‘60s is telling them that he had no idea about the mass slaughter that went on in the office next to his. “I never saw anything,” he says, smiling bemusedly. “You were so smooth, and I rarely went up to your office.” The man grins obsequiously at Anwar and Adi, as if paying them a compliment, but Adi cuts in with characteristic frankness. He tells the journalist that he can’t believe it – the executioners never tried to hide what they were doing, and the man’s publisher himself directed most of the killings. Even the neighbors knew. The journalist is no longer grinning; now he chews on his lip, disturbed and embarrassed, with nothing to say to this relentless logic. Adi is right – we almost pity the journalist for his apparent willing blindness to atrocity. But then of course we remember that the person chastising him for selectivity of vision is none other than a man who claims to feel zero remorse for his own rampant murders – and once again (as happens often in The Act of Killing), a moral vortex opens up.

The Act of Killing is currently in limited release from Drafthouse Films. Check out the film’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

To subscribe to MovieMaker Magazine, click here.

Share the MovieMaker love!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Latest Stories
Copy of Copy of Blue Ruin Poster

Blue Ruin‘s director-writer-DP, Jeremy Saulnier, shares one of MovieMaker‘s greatest “How They Did It” stories of all time, lying, begging and impoverishing himself on the way to Cannes glory with his sleek bullet of a revenge thriller. This article appears in full in our Spring issue, on stands now. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two. [...]

Copy of Copy of Sergey Maidukov_01_HR

In our Spring issue, we asked Academy-Award winning director Oliver Stone if film can make a difference in vanquishing the darkness and rot that has pervaded through humanity’s ages. Stone, whose provocative Showtime documentary series The Untold History of the United States recently spawned an education project, is a veteran in the trenches of political [...]

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee - SFF 2013 Spectacular Now Screening - Featured

Feast your eyes on MovieMaker‘s complete list of the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2014. Despite original plan to publish the list in installments (we had already begun here and here), we’ve decided we couldn’t keep the news to ourselves any longer. We’re happy to present our much-deliberated, comprehensive list, featured in [...]

Cold in July Featured

Jim Mickle’s new Cold in July trailer guarantees grit, guns, blood, and tears. Not necessarily in that order. Jim Mickle’s first two films Stake Land and Mulberry St were entertaining, if not very sophisticated, forays into modern horror. His 2013 follow-up We Are What We Are showed that Mickle is developing into a refined storyteller, capable [...]

2013BAFFphoto151

You can take a moviemaker out of New York, but… When my first son Ben was born in Los Angeles 19 years ago, I cut the umbilical cord, held him in my arms, and said, “Ben, I just want you to know one thing—you may have been born in L.A., but we’re from New York!” [...]

NFMLA3

This week, New Filmmakers LA brings you the inside scoop on the moviemaking, featuring interviews with directors Dustin Shroff, John McCracken, Danny Finn, Juan Uribe and John Bevilacqua. NewFilmmakers LA (NFMLA) is a non-profit organization designed to showcase the innovative works by emerging filmmakers from around the world, providing the Los Angeles community of entertainment [...]

tumblr_mrwhh37C571qdshsoo1_1280

Seven years ago, MovieMaker interviewed British director Edgar Wright about the second part of his Blood and Cornetto trilogy: the devilishly sharp cop-movie parody Hot Fuzz. Today Wright turns 40, and to celebrate his singular cinematic style we’re revisiting this typically droll conversation between the director, his longtime collaborator Simon Pegg, and writer David Fear. [...]

jump-outs

Jump Outs is an urban gameshow, produced and distributed by DailyMotion as a part of their new digital programming. Production assistant David Quan walks us through the set of the unscripted shoot, involving eight ENG cameras and a dozen GoPros. It’s quiet on top of the Hill. The four of us sit in silence, but [...]

Made In LA - Social Action Documentary

In our Spring 2014 Activism in Film issue (available to the public next Tuesday, April 22!), we asked the question: Can your movie change the world? In our cover story, Beth Portello, co-founder of Cinema Libre Studio, interviewed representatives from all the different groups that make social change possible: grant organizations, engagement strategists, producers, distributors, [...]