By Daniel Barnes
*Opens today at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Camera Cinemas in San Jose.
In the Fall of 1965, the military-led, American-supported government of Indonesia oversaw the genocide of nearly one million people under the guise of eradicating Communism, and the people who ordered and carried out the butchery became rich and famous, many of them remaining in power to this day.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s disturbing and transcendent 2013 documentary The Act of Killing examined the slaughter from the inside out, showing the killers reenacting their “heroic” crimes as Hollywood-style genre films, and offering a new level of moral understanding through the naked self-discovery of performance. Oppenheimer’s brilliant follow-up film The Look of Silence (once again, most of the key crewmembers here are listed as “Anonymous”) takes the opposite approach, viewing the genocide from the outside in, as the brother of one of the most gruesomely dispatched victims confronts the wealthy perpetrators, some of whom still live in his parents’ village.
The Look of Silence doesn’t push the documentary form like The Act of Killing (similar to a lot of modern documentaries, it’s more of an outrage-inducer, stoking fury over an unresolved injustice), but it’s just as emotionally devastating and even more beautifully shot and edited, with a keen awareness of the effects of eerie silences and ghostly compositions. As Oppenheimer and his unnamed inquisitor/optometrist search for answers, they encounter an entire country – indeed, an entire world – living in a determined state of shortsightedness and senility.