Ok, I don't normally blog about the politics etc so much, but this one I can't miss. I've FINALLY seen "The Act of Killing." It's out on DVD. It's the most important movie I've seen. Ever.
Not necessarily because of the stated topic of the film, which is the genocide in Indonesia in 1965 backed by the US and other western powers. That IS important and I'll be reading and researching to understand that more fully.
For me the most important part is to realize that the people who committed this genocide are not that different from me. That nauseated me at the time and it nauseates me now. There were several moments during the film where I identified with one of the men on the screen. Scary. I also appreciated what they said. The pure truths that came out of their mouths and out of their experiences as victors.
So, what is this film. Well...it's a documentary but it's a surrealist film. Possibly more surrealist because it documents not the basic facts and events of the genocide. There is very little in the way of body counts, dates, political players being named. Instead, the director, Joshua Oppenheimer, tracked down some of the men who did the actual killing and asked them to stage scenes showing what they had done. In the DVD extras he states that he has 1200 hours of film over 8 years with DOZENS of these executioners. The executioners were not military men, government men. They were gangsters. Youth in gangs. They were used by the military, the government and the otherwise powerful to do the killing. Sound familiar? Do we perchance have contractors doing some of our overseas killing now?
Anyway. Back to this film (that's the trouble with this film, it keeps hitting you with things the US has done that are absolutely parallel...or absolutely central to this genocide like providing money, materials and lists of people to kill)....ANYWAY, back to this film.
The main executioner portrayed in the film is Anwar Congo. He claims to have killed 1000 people, more or less. I don't know if that is "true." But in the scheme of things where there are probably thousands of Anwars in Indonesia who killed hundreds of people, he gives us a picture of one. He may be "acting" and embellishing because as a victor he has been celebrated for his acts. Our own military men have been known to do this. During the Indian Wars in the US, the executioners embellished their body counts. Anwar loved movies. He used movies, American movies, to inform his methods of killing. He acted them out then. And now he stages scenes from his life. Oppenheimer told him, and the others we don't see the footage of, to stage these scenes in anyway they choose. He did not say that it had to be 100% realistic, accurate, etc. He said as the executioner chooses. This is how one executioner and his colleagues chose.
It's wrenching. It's surprising when you empathize with Anwar and the others. It's surprising how forthcoming they are. It's surprising how much they understand and say outloud. They know their prestige is based on lies. They also know that the US doesn't have a leg to stand on. As one executioner points out...when did we apologize to the Indians? What about Guantamo? Who are we to tell him what is a war crime. The victors define war crimes and he is a victor. Painful but true.
This is barely a taste of the film. It's incredibly complex.
As a film it is completely original. Werner Herzog says so.