Sunday, July 14, 2013

Joshua Oppenheimer's new documentary "The Act of Killing" at Landmark Theatres: Jul 19 - Aug 22

Unquestionably the most noteworthy film I saw in all of this year's Seattle International Film Festival, Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing" returns for a one-week theatrical run at Seattle's Varisty Theater. Now months later I still find myself stunned when attempting to make sense of the film and the immoral, (insane), surreal, sense-less events it depicts. Some of the more insightful reading and commentary on this documentary-hybrid that I've read to date can be found in both the current issue of Sight & Sound with Nick Bradshaw's "Building My Gallows High" and Stuart Klawans' brilliant "The Executioner’s Song" for Film Comment. Yet it's Werner Herzog's (who acts as producer on the film) response to witnessing a working print; "I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade... it is unprecedented in the history of cinema." - that says it most succinctly. For me, it's a strange thing to have seen a work of such powerful, discomfiting content and execution and find oneself coming out at the other end of the theater experience incredulous. Incredulous not for the legitimacy of the historic events revisited in it's recreation, but for the literally unbelievable, total, absolute obliviousness for moral/social consideration on the part of it's subjects. I'm not talking Politically Correct considerations here, I'm talking torture, rape, interrogation, destroying of homes, businesses and communities and the murder of hundreds, thousands, (it's estimated nearly two million) alleged Communists following the failed coup and Suharto regime of 1965-66. Astounding that Oppenheimer has delivered this revealing, bizarre, surreal, disconcerting, hilarious, (yes if you have a conscience, you'll laugh, in the most terrible way) exhibition of the pysche of those who perpetrated one one of the most brutal of all the Cold War purges of Communist citizens in all of South-Eastern Asia. One abetted, like many of them at the time, with aid from the United States. The real world events are nightmarish in their scope, "The Act of Killing" ads yet another layer to the multiplicity of the horror, by way of the absurd, uninhibited exhibition, the pride, flair and deranged charisma (bizarrely fueled by impressions of western pop culture) of those who perpetrated it. There's no doubt some narrative-construction at play in Oppenheimer's work. The placement of our 'protagonist' Anwar Congo coming to the emotion "insights" he does, at the end of the film, is obviously designed as a punchline of sorts for the moral gratification of the audience. You decide to what degree you feel this colors the objectivity of what's seen. The depth Oppenheimer's surreal work of documentary reenactment peers into history's enabling of genocide via xenophobia, Cold War politics, economics, racial hatred and superstition is undeniable. Heart of Darkness indeed.