In a Danish-British-Norwegian co-production, The Act of Killing (2012), a new film by American director Joshua Oppenheimer, in a radical and unscrupulous way dives straight into the depths of past coping with it in all the ways a conventional documentary would not.
Recipient of numerous awards, including the Audience Award and the Ecumenical Jury Award at the Berlinale 2013, The Act of Killing (2012) is a film you have never seen before. And this is a fact.
In 1965, a horrific bloodbath was committed against communists in Indonesia in which at least 500,000 people were killed, and possibly as many as 2.5 million, often only on the slightest suspicion of leftist collusion. But this is not all, in fact, this hideous period in the country’s past hasn’t been covered up; on the contrary, it is publicly celebrated by the current regime as a glorious purge.
The central figure of the film is Anwar Congo, a racketeer, animal lover, granddad, a mass murderer, and a movie buff who ran the local cinema, hence his interest in the movies. Together with his crew he killed hundreds and did not just got away with it – he is praised a hero. Unable to tell the story from the victim view point Oppenheimer opted for somewhat unorthodox approach instead, and ended up filming (and befriending) the killers themselves offering them them to, bizarrely, re-enact the acts of killing, in their own favorite film genres. Needless to say, the offer is accepted with open hands. They willingly talk him through their methods of slaughter and they do it on site, sometimes playing themselves, sometimes their victims. They dress up as gangsters, cowboys, even cross-dress, all with the purpose of filming the vivid, colorful propaganda for their mass murder. The scenes are produced in the style of their favorite film genres: gangster, western, and musical.
Oppenheimer is, therefore, forcing you to re-watch the acts of killing, over and over and over again, rendering the act itself increasingly surreal and even nightmarish. The fiction scenes thus begin to take over the film’s form creating a brilliant result which Oppenheimer called “a documentary of the imagination”. In the media, this film is described as one of the most controversial documentaries ever filmed. Bizzare, nauseating and probably one of the best documentary films I have ever seen.