ACT OF KILLING, THE
Unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads are challenged to re-enact some of their many murders in the style of the American movies they love. In the 1960s Anwar Congo was a leader in Indonesia's pro-regime paramilitary group, Pancasila Youth who, along with his band of dedicated followers, was amongst those who participated in the murder and torture more than a million alleged Communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals. Proud of their deeds, which are still unpunished, Anwar and his pals are lauded as national heroes, and are delighted when the filmmakers ask them to re-enact these murders for their documentary - in any genre they desire. Initially Anwar and his friends enthusiastically take up the challenge using hired actors, making elaborate sets and costumes, but eventually as the movie violence is played out and reconstructed, Anwar's conscience begins to stir and feelings of remorse surface.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Pancasila Youth of Indonesia are interchangeable with just any ideologiccally driven youth movement, from the Red Pioneers of 1950s USSR and Eastern Europe to the Islamic youth movements of today. Left, right, fundamentalist, you name it, all glued together by a real or imagined moral enemy, ready to kill and to die. Ideology that is drummed into these youths can be any version - it's a matter of where they are born. I saw this with my own eyes in Hungary in the 1950s. The language, the ruthlessness and the absence of moral compass are identical. Mao's Red Guards were forged in the same hateful fire.
You could easily transpose their leaders' speeches with a simple change of the name. They all refer to 'the enemies of our country' and the 'enemies of the people'. The Left and Right dictatorships are each copies of the other.
In The Act of Killing, the Pancasila Youth are "heroes" still, with 3 million members. They were a very active part of the murders of between one and 2.5 million of their fellow Indonesians in the mid 1960s, who were conveniently labelled 'communist' but could just as well have been anything; Chinese, for example. The Pancasila and their fellow travellers, the thugs and gangsters and paramilitary bovver boys were on a killing spree. A newspaper editor proudly recalls how he would interrogate people and change their answers to "make them look bad so people would hate them" and then hand them over to be killed.
Talking to him and to several of the very killers, now older but no less dangerous, the filmmakers reveal the depth of the moral vacuum which has allowed them to not only walk free but boast of their crimes. For some people, this is an atrocity itself. But that is a kind of moral cowardice: we can't simply blank out a part of the human condition because it is so detestable. Recording it took courage and a certain austerity. You will not like what you see - but you don't have to watch. Those that do, will be repaid by an insight that has never before made it to mainstream (as distinct from underground) screens.
The film is far too long and repetitive, even though it's often gobsmacking in its frank portrayal of these truly nasty, ugly human beings who boast on television about their killings and are ready to keep on killing. Nay, keen to do so.
There is, however, a resolution of sorts for Anwar Congo, the central character in the film, a sickening realisation of what he has done.
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ACT OF KILLING, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Documentary featuring Haji Anif, Syamsul Arifin, Sakhyan Asmara, Anwar Congo, Jusuf Kalla, Herman Koto, Haji Marzuki and others
PRODUCER: Signe Byrge Sorensen
DIRECTOR: Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous, Christine Cynn
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anonymous, Carlos Arango De Montis, Lars Skee
EDITOR: Nils Pagh Andersen, Erik Andersson, Charlotte Munch Bengtsen, Janus Billeskov Jansen, Ariadna Fatjó-Vilas, Mariko Montpetit
MUSIC: Karsten Fundal
RUNNING TIME: 159 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 3, 2013