Joshua Oppenheimer

The Look of Silence

My neighbors were children when Hitler ruled Germany, gifted innocence by virtue of being born late enough but damned to the fallout of a divided country by being born too early. Every time we talk about the war, Oma signals that she’s done reliving the past by saying, “There are bad men in every country, there are good men in every country.” When she first said it, I thought it was a defense mechanism. A reminder for herself and for us as outsiders that they recognize a pitch dark evil that now goes greatly unspoken. When she repeated the mantra in subsequent conversations, I realized that it’s the required coda that recognizes the real lesson of the Holocaust: it isn’t only Germany that has the capacity for large-scale terror, it’s every society in the world. There’s a woman in Anonymous and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence that looks remarkably like my Oma — tan, bright eyes, short grandma hair and a face drawn downward by almost a century of living. An Indonesian twin for my German friend. Her son was killed during the mid-60s mass murder of “communists” in Indonesia, and the people who dumped his body in the river are still running the country. This was the reality that Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and Anonymous explored in The Act of Killing, and the follow-up finds the other side of the story by focusing on the murdered man’s younger brother as he interviews the men responsible for the crimes.

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cc the act of killing 1

The Act of Killing is a fascinating piece of cinema that illuminates not only a tragic and disturbing slice of history but also the humanity behind it all. The term is usually used in a positive light, but one of the film’s points is that these aren’t monsters committing such acts of barbarity. They’re people. Director Joshua Oppenheimer‘s film is one of the year’s best, and while he received a helping hand from two big names in the documentary field both Werner Herzog and Errol Morris give him full credit for the accomplishment. Drafthouse Films’ upcoming Blu-ray release includes the theatrical cut with some solid special features, but it also comes with a second Blu featuring the 166-minute director’s cut (an additional 44 minutes). Even better? The longer cut includes a commentary track with Oppenheimer and Herzog. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for The Act of Killing.

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The Act of Killing

There’s plenty of violence in Hollywood summer tentpole movies. In superhero films and toy adaptations, it’s become something resembling common practice to have a climax that involves the probable off-screen collateral deaths of thousands of nameless civilians. But most Hollywood film violence is of the largely inconsequential, routinely PG-13 variety, with the bad guy inevitably receiving their comeuppance, all of it “tastefully” lacking realism. As if Hollywood’s representations of violence didn’t seem cartoonishly inconsequential enough, in a move approaching self-parody, this weekend saw the major release of a film involving supernatural cops who hunt down perpetrators that are already dead. Early this year, in response to the controversy over the representation of torture in Zero Dark Thirty, I quoted the argument from a friend’s rather great book that “movie violence” is a floating, elusive signifier; it hardly means one given thing, and its possible meanings and potential affects are largely dependent upon a great many intersecting factors. While I stand by this assertion, during the summer more than any time of year, it’s clear that Hollywood film violence can be relatively homogenous: typically passive, unimaginative, unserious, stultifying. But during past few weeks, the limited release/arthouse sector has seen an abundance of films that represent violent actions in myriad ways, using and exploring violence towards varying ends, none of which involve a fleeting moment of utilitarian spectacle.

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review act of killing

Editor’s note: Our review of The Act of Killing originally ran during this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, but we’re re-running it now as the movie opens in limited theatrical release. While everyone has experienced situations in which someone has upset us and we demand an apology, everyone also knows that you cannot truly force someone to apologize. The documentary The Act of Killing presents an almost social experiment exploring what happens when you give those who have done something terrible (in this case, killing thousands) a forum through which to tell their story to see if a new perspective changes their attitude. Back in 1960’s, Indonesia was riddled with “gangsters” and death squad leaders who persecuted and murdered thousands of alleged Communists throughout the region. The fear these unjust murders created is still alive today, with large paramilitary organizations like the Pancasila Youth continuing to grow in staggering numbers. The Act of Killing asks these former killers to make a movie about their experiences and then allows the film’s subjects to run the show from forcing friends and family to act in the film to selecting elaborate costumes.  The film focuses on Anwar Congo, a former gangster, who begins as a bit of a showboating caricature – a man proud of what he’s done and constantly talking about how he mirrored himself after the actors in the films he also scalped tickets for. Congo clearly has an interest in film and takes on the role of the director, explaining how the film needed comic […]

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killing

At the heart of Joshua Oppenheimer’s new documentary, The Act of Killing, is an interesting experiment. The general conceit is that he’s contacting mass murderers who are living in a culture that celebrates rather than vilifies their crimes against humanity, and he’s challenging them to film reenactments of the murders they’ve carried out in their real lives, but in the dramatic film genre of their choice. As you can see in the new trailer for the doc, some of their short films end up looking like crime films, some experimental art films, and some gaudy Bollywood musicals, but the tie that binds them all together is that they’re really disturbing to watch, and they just may leave you examining how you react to the murder you see so frequently projected up on the big screen, and why it is you react the way you do.

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People have been talking about making a Doctor Strange film for years now. But seeing as how the Sorcerer Supreme isn’t as well known a name as, and is a whole lot weirder than other super heroes, the project has never emerged as a priority over at Marvel Films. That might be ready to change though. Marvel’s real heavyweight franchises are Spider-Man and The X-Men, but Sony and Fox are still controlling their film rights respectively. They had a series of second tier characters that they are in direct control of, but at this point they’ve already brought most of them to the big screen and have them poised to team up in next year’s The Avengers. With all of their biggest names out of their hands or already starring in movies, the only option they have to create new movies at this point is to start moving forward with more obscure heroes. It comes as no surprise, then, that Twitch is reporting the long rumored Doctor Strange project is beginning its first stages of moving forward in a real way. The last news on the subject of a Marvel made mystical movie was that Thomas Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer had been tasked with the job of coming up with a script. Reportedly, that script has now been turned in and Marvel is shopping it around to potential directors to “oversee continued development.”

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It’s been a while since we have heard about the possibility of a live action version of the 80s cartoon Voltron. Back in October of 2009 it was reported that The Dark Knight producer Charles Roven was working with rights-holder World Event Prods. to get a movie on track, and also there was some business with UTA assisting them in bringing the product to multiple platforms. In general, it was the typical Hollywood quagmire of company names and rights issues, and who knows what. But now, quite a while later, things seem to be moving in a more concrete direction. Roven, still involved with the project in some way, has helped bring the rights over to Relativity Media. They now apparently have a live action Voltron movie optioned, and they’ve brought on Thomas Dean Donnelly (Conan the Barbarian) and Joshua Oppenheimer (Sahara) to write a screenplay.

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