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.

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

Comments are closed.

Latest Stories
feat

Happy Bastille Day! Directed by the colorful, hyper-kinetic, and very French Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Mood Indigo tells the story of two lovers against the backdrop of Gondry’s typically fantastical Paris. Visual effects supervisor Romain Strabol explains how the team crafted two key elements of Mood Indigo‘s surreal mise-en-scène: a mouse-house […]

Copy of Road to Paloma 2

Towering over six feet four inches tall, Hawaiian born actor-director Jason Momoa’s powerful presence on screen is unmistakable. In the HBO series Game of Thrones, he is Khal Drogo, the fearsome Dothraki warlord who weds exiled princess Daenerys Targaryen. In Stargate Atlantis, he transforms into dreadlocked military specialist Ronon Dex. He goes mano y mano, […]

New Filmmakers LA is back with even more moviemaking wisdom, featuring interviews with directors Edward Shieh, Sam Barnett, Evan Matthews, Marko Grujic and Michelle Yu. 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 professionals and film goers with a constant surge […]

New Filmmakers LA is back with loads of moviemaking wisdom, featuring interviews with directors J.D. Ramage, Adam Rosenbaum and writer Matt Godfrey, Ross Kolton and lead actor Ryan Mazzei, Bettina Bilger and Chris Valenziano. 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 […]

hal-hartley_feature

This week, on the heels of Independence Day, director Hal Hartley (No Such Thing) discusses his latest feature film, My America, which knits together the emotions and people that define the United States. Commissioned by Center Stage, the state theater of Maryland, the film consists of a series of spirited monologues written and performed by […]

Boyhood2

Richard Linklater is no stranger to the workings of time—both as thematic device in his films, and as necessary ingredient to the moviemaking process. After all, his two previous features had unusually long gestation periods: 2011’s Bernie had been cooking in the director’s head since 1997, while 2013’s Before Midnight comes 18 years after Before […]

feat

Filmmaker and editor Dean Pollack’s work has appeared everywhere from Bravo and Hulu to Adult Swim. He just completed his second directorial effort, the feature film Audrey, which traces a single hour in a woman’s day. He discusses the advantages and disadvantages encountered shooting a film set in real time on a single location. Not […]

Still from James Broughton film The Bed. Courtesy of Frisky Divinity Productions.

Stephen Silha is the co-director of Big Joy: the Adventures of James Broughton, a lyrical documentary about the beloved director of The Bed, The Pleasure Garden, This is It and other counter-culture classics. Here, Silha recounts his friendship with the late Broughton, the subject he brings to luminous life along with fellow filmmakers Eric Slade […]

New Picture (12)

“The food in that movie looked so good.” There’s nothing quite as aggravating as delicious onscreen food. Think of the plump, glistening, jeweled globs of sashimied perfection served to the camera in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and weep with frustrated desire. Let’s face it: That film, and others like it, have honed the fine art […]