Why did I have to kill them? I had to kill… My conscience told me they had to be killed.
It’s almost the end of the year when i finally have enough courage to see the most talked about documentary feature this year, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. Named as the best film of the year by Sight and Sound and short-listed as the nominee in Best Documentary Feature category of the upcoming Academy Awards, The Act of Killing has generated quite a buzz in 2013. …And i finally have enough guts to watch it yesterday.
‘We were preman (gangsters), you know… free man’, Anwar Congo, former death leader squad that took part in a nationwide purge for communist, mused as he recalls the days of his past. Back in 1965, there were an attempted coup d’etat to overthrown the government of President Soekarno. When the attempt failed, the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) was blamed for the attacks. Soon, a mass eradication of communist party members, its sympathizer, and people of chinese ethnicities was carried out by paramilitary and gangster in lieu of the government. Over 500.000 victims were killed. The event marks the end of Soekarno become the beginning of new order regime under Soeharto. Anwar Congo was one of the gangster who took part in the event, killing tens if not hundreds of people.
Known as Jagal (butcher) in Indonesia, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing is an absurdly interesting piece of documentary. Using film-within-a-film approach as we see our killers reenacting their past murders in various film genre accompanied with subject interviews and following them around. We met Congo as the subject, as he begin to regale the tale of his heroic act, a service to his country by eliminating the communists. Telling us what’s the most effective way to kill without shedding too much blood because cleaning it afterwards will be too much of a hassle or compare notes of his past brutality with fellow gangsters. The piece is not all about the character study of Congo, though. A political piece that shows not only my nation’s dark past as well as the rotten core of government and their horrifying ignorance and indifference.
One of the two footages used in the film was from a propaganda film called Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI which showcased the brutality of the communist that murdered 6 different generals in the military at that time. I remember watching the film, and i read the recounts in my history text books back when i was still in elementary school. A survey in 2000 showed that 97% of students have watched the film, as it was broadcasted every year on September 30 on government channel, and it is almost compulsory to watch it. I think most of my generations are not aware of the propaganda. I just realized that there have been academic journals, articles, and protests, about events, the propaganda, and how it banal violation of human rights.
Although Oppenheimer’s intention was to make it a political film, a more psychological aspects of Congo become one of the film biggest point of interest as well. He looked confident at the beginning of the film, proud as a lion with his past deeds. But he admits he was still haunted by nightmares and show his troubled self as they did a reconstruction of his brutality and he’s in the shoes of the victim this time. I am not sure if the regret is genuine but i can’t help but see the trouble behind his eyes. There’s a slight difference between Congo and some of his ‘colleague’, some who justify their abominable sins.
The Act of Killing is a hard film to watch. I did not know who’s the real monsters here, these killers or the upper men who delegates the killing yet felt like they did not share their sins. The monstrosity of man scared me. Definitely an experience not to be forgotten, The Act of Killing is an eye-opener, shocking, but an important film to be seen nevertheless.
What I regret… Honestly, I never expected it would look this awful. My friends kept telling me to act more sadistic, but then I saw the women and children. Imagine those children’s future. They’ve been tortured. Now their houses will be burned down. What future do they have? They will curse us for the rest of their lives. This was so very, very, very…
THE ACT OF KILLING (2012)
GENRE Documentary, History
DIRECTOR Joshua Oppenheimer | PRODUCER Signe Byrge Sørensen, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Andre Singer, Joram Ten Brink | CINEMATOGRAPHER Carlos Arango de Montis, Lars Skree | MUSIC Chris Øyen Vister Hajian | EDITOR Niels Pagh Andersen, Janus Billeskov Jansen, Mariko Montpetit, Charlotte Munch Bangtsen, Ariadna Fatjó-Vilas Mestre | STUDIO Final Cut for Real | DISTRIBUTOR Drafthouse Pictures, Dogwoof Pictures, Det Danske Filminstitut | BUDGET $1 million | COUNTRY United States, Norway, Denmark | RUNNING TIME 115 minutes / 159 minutes (Director’s Cut) | RELEASE September 8, 2012 (TIFF)
For Indonesians, you can download the 159-minute (director’s cut) version of the film for free in .mp4 format (SD & HD) at actofkilling.com, courtesy of Joshua Oppenheimer.
PS: The film is not in black and white.. i just can not handle the stills with colors in them.