In 1965, a gruesome coup d'état was carried out by the Indonesian armed forces that led to the fall of the Sukarno government and establishment of Suharto’s military dictatorship. This was accompanied by genocide and mass killings – along with tortures, rapes, disappearances – of grotesque proportions, carried out against Communists and Communist sympathizers, and in turn extended to intellectuals, ethnic Chinese and essentially anyone construed as “anti-nationals”, by the army, paramilitary forces and death squads. In his acutely harrowing, formally daring, hugely provocative, and extraordinary documentary The Act of Killing – made over 6 years, and executive produced by the likes of Warner Herzog and Errol Morris – Joshua Oppenheimer powerfully tackled this ghastly chapter in a manner that blurred the lines of documentary film-making, and crafted “a supreme testament to the cinema’s capacity for inquiry, confrontation, and remembrance”, the potential ethical trappings notwithstanding. In an outrageous artistic choice, he managed to get former perpetrators of extrajudicial massacres – members of death squads fashioned along the lines of Hollywood gangster cinema and the country’s noxious right-wing paramilitary organization Pancasila Youth – enact their horrible acts from half a century back in the form of lurid film sequences. The slender Anwar Congo, who alone killed over a thousand people, and the rotund Herman Koto, formed the key real-life antagonists here, coaxing perplexed civilians to participate, revealing their preferred murder tools and gloating over their revolting pasts. Yet, in unforgettable candid captures, these stagings – despite being mock enactments – end up having intense impacts on people, as evidenced by the profusely crying kids post the hideous performances, and on the seemingly cool Anwar too, whose dreadful retching at the scene of his brutalities the docu ends with.
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer & Christine Cynn
Genre: Documentary/Political Documentary/Agitprop