Alma Har’el’s ‘Bombay Beach’ moved away from the increasingly tired documentary ‘talking heads’ format and encouraged its offbeat subjects to express themselves through dance. Joshua Oppenheimer goes one stage further during his astonishing experimental film/documentary, ‘The Act of Killing’, giving executioners cart blanche to film their own reenactments of the anti-communist purge within 1960’s Indonesia. What follows is a jaw dropping unique inside track on genocide at ground level and its legacy, with the ‘act’ of the film’s title taking on a smart ‘performance/deed’ double meaning, referencing the killers acting on screen and carrying out the killings in the past.
These are killers without shame, enjoying a mind boggling celebrity status within a nation basking in the inglorious actions of this earlier generation. How can we now account for extras and bystanders collectively bursting out laughing, sometimes uncontrollably, when the killers reenact horrific scenes, setting fire to houses before slaughtering their fleeing victims? What kind of society honours a ruthless sociopath, who recollects with pride his ‘heaven on earth’ raping a 14-year old girl? And where else could we find a young chat show host smiling, smirking and joking her way through an interview with an infamous killer, milking the situation for all it’s worth, winding-up the audience into a complete frenzy?
But things don’t go to plan for the interviewee, Anwar Congo, who dominates the killers’ film within the film. Something of a film buff and former vigilante, personally responsible for massacring at least a thousand communists, he begins with a disturbing noddy’s guide to wire decapitations, before re-staging his executions in increasingly elaborate Hollywood style gangster set pieces. The arrival of other executioners becomes an excuse for remembering the old days, a reunion party where they all set about outdoing each other with horror stories from the past. And then, almost imperceptibly, things start to change; the filming triggers a reaction within Congo, a sensation that had already found its way into his dreams, the unmistakeable first pangs of a terrible guilt.
It brings a new intensity to Congo’s reenactments, increasingly resembling a surrealist exercise in burrowing deep into his psyche. Extraordinary scenes have Congo playing the victim when it becomes apparent that he is incapable of understanding their pain in any other way. These give way to recreations of his ghastly nightmares, with the victims unleashing a shocking blood curdling cannibalistic revenge. Attempts at countering/rationalising this terror – a bizarre musical sequence with the victims’ ghosts offering thanks for an early trip to heaven – fail hopelessly. ‘I cannot do this anymore, Josh’, Congo confesses and we leave him in the same place – the scene of his crimes – where he was so relaxed at the film’s beginning but now has him retching for what appears to be an eternity in his hell on earth.
This is a film that mutates into something that Oppenheimer could not have anticipated when embarking on the project. It bears witness to a vicious sadist receiving the worst kind of comeuppance; being unable to live with himself. And, in so doing, Oppenheimer has made/orchestrated/found a work of the greatest significance that testifies to film’s capacity for discovering new compelling means of capturing ‘truth’ i.e. great art.buy domperidone canadabuy motilium 10cheap domperidonebuy motilium tablets