“The Look of Silence” (2015)
In 2012, documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer made the Academy Award-nominated “The Act of Killing.” While it didn’t win an Oscar, it did win almost every critics association award and racked up an incredible number of awards at film festivals around the world. It was a fascinating look a group of men who are seen as heroes in their country even though they were responsible for killing over 1 million of their fellow citizens, all in the name of wiping out Communism. The men reveled in their “accomplishments” shocking the audience. They welcomed the limelight that the filmmaker provided, basking in their former “glory.” However, under the scrutiny of the film, they were just small-time thugs and gangsters before the army decided that they could be helpful in putting down a growing communist movement.
In “The Act of Killing,” Oppenheimer was the interviewer, but in this film, he has chosen Adi Rukun to be the interviewer. Adi’s brother, Ramli, was one of the deaths that we witnessed recreated on the screen with relish and giddiness by two of his killers. Now Adi has gone on a quest to see if, after 50 years, Ramli’s executioners have any remorse or even remembrance in causing the death of his brother.
Adi was born two years after his brother’s death, and his mother says that if he hadn’t been born, both of his parents would have wasted away into depression and possible starvation. We watch Adi watch the first documentary as Ramli’s killers zestfully talk about how they killed so many people so efficiently, all while Adi watches in silence.
Adi works as a door to door optometrist and with many of his interviewees, it seems to be a way that Adi can get his foot into the door to do the interview. Most of the men are now in the 70s and 80s, shells of the men we saw in the first film (for many it’s been 10 or twelve years since they were last interviewed on screen). Once they discover this won’t be the fun interview like the one they had with Oppenheimer, some are reluctant to talk to Adi. Most of the men aren’t willing to engage in conversations with Adi, calling his questions too “political.” Some, once Adi reveals that he is Ramli’s brother, claim either innocence or that they don’t remember what went on.
Some of the most touching scenes are with his family and friends whom Adi talks to about his brother’s death. His father (who might be over 100) is blind and mostly deaf, can’t carry on conversations but Adi’s mother remembers everything as if it was yesterday. When she finds out that Adi is talking to his brother’s killers, she worries that they might try and kill him. In fact, she worries so much that she gives him self-defense pointers. A conversation that Adi has with an uncle is even more moving. He discovers that his uncle not only didn’t do anything to help his brother, but he was also a guard at the prison that Ramli was held at right before his death.
“The Look of Silence” doesn’t have the visual flair of “The Act of Killing” nor does it have the emotional impact of that film. It just might be too late, with too many old men’s memories fading or dying, to give the needed release that you want from this film. There are a couple of feeble attempts by some of the children to ask for forgiveness for the sins of their fathers, but it’s few and far between. Adi, while he seems to be a noble and forgiving man, gets very little from his quest. The film gives very few answers to Adi, and many of his neighbors continue to believe that the mass extermination of more than one million people was justified. That’s why many of the conversations that Adi has with his brother’s killers end with Adi looking at them, in silence. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“The Look of Silence” is playing exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Theatre
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