The Look of Si­lence

THE LOOK OF SI­LENCE, documentary, rated PG-13, in In­done­sian and Ja­vanese with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

The Act of Killing, Joshua Op­pen­heimer’s stun­ning Os­car-nom­i­nated documentary that ex­poses the half-cen­tury-old slaugh­ter of sus­pected “com­mu­nists” fol­low­ing an army coup in In­done­sia, and the pride­ful swag­ger with which the per­pe­tra­tors still revel in the tragedy, was com­pleted in 2012 and re­leased a year later. The de­lay was to al­low Op­pen­heimer to fin­ish the com­pan­ion piece he had in the works, The Look of Si­lence, which ex­am­ines the same events from the per­spec­tive of the sur­viv­ing fam­i­lies of the vic­tims. Once the first film opened, he knew, he would be per­sona non grata in In­done­sia. He might get into the coun­try, he spec­u­lated, but there was a good chance that “I wouldn’t get out alive.” (Some of his In­done­sian col­lab­o­ra­tors have been re­lo­cated to dis­tant ar­eas of the coun­try.)

The Look of Si­lence doesn’t pack quite the same eye-open­ing punch as The Act of Killing, but it opens eyes in ways that are just as dis­turb­ing. Op­pen­heimer en­lists the col­lab­o­ra­tion of Adi Rukun, a soft-spo­ken oph­thal­mol­o­gist who worked with him on the first film. Adi was born af­ter the geno­cide, in which his brother Ramli was killed. To­gether Op­pen­heimer and Adi visit a num­ber of the men re­spon­si­ble for or­der­ing or car­ry­ing out the mass slaugh­ter in which, some es­ti­mates sug­gest, up to a mil­lion peo­ple were killed. Adi is pri­mar­ily fo­cused on the mur­der of his brother and on how his killers feel about the events to­day. Un­der the guise of do­ing house­call eye ex­ams, he gen­tly but firmly puts ques­tions to the men re­spon­si­ble.

The two neigh­bors who killed Ramli re­mem­ber it well. “He clung to the tree roots, beg­ging ‘Help me!’” one re­calls, laugh­ing. “So we fished him out and killed him by cut­ting off his pe­nis.” The killers say that they drank their vic­tims’ blood, be­liev­ing it would pro­tect them against in­san­ity.

“We should be re­warded with a trip to America,” says one of the men. “We de­serve it! We did this be­cause America taught us to hate com­mu­nists.”

U.S. in­volve­ment in the In­done­sian mass killings comes up for reck­on­ing in a clip from an NBC documentary that lays out the at­ti­tudes of the U.S. govern­ment and cor­po­rate in­ter­ests. (Goodyear had a rub­ber plant that had been seized by com­mu­nists. Af­ter the mas­sacre, sur­vivors were forced to re­turn to work as slave la­bor­ers.)

Adi’s el­derly mother still car­ries a heavy bur­den of grief over the mur­der of her older son. His cen­te­nar­ian fa­ther, per­haps mer­ci­fully, has sunk into se­nil­ity and re­mem­bers noth­ing of Ramli and the mas­sacres. But he still lives with ter­ror, even though he doesn’t know what it’s about. Most of those re­spon­si­ble are com­fort­able with their ac­tions. When Adi’s ques­tion­ing grows too pointed, a few are roused to anger, and they tell him to let it go, and to get out.

Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Op­pen­heimer sug­gests, can­not hap­pen un­til the si­lence is bro­ken and the coun­try faces up to the hor­ror of its re­cent past. One of the most haunt­ing im­ages, of­ten re­peated, is of Adi watch­ing the taped in­ter­views with un­ut­ter­able sor­row. Another is of el­derly killers peer­ing through Adi’s spec­ta­cle-fit­ting de­vices, see­ing noth­ing. — Jonathan Richards

Land of trauma: film­maker Joshua Op­pen­heimer re­turns to In­done­sia

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