© Koch Media/Neue Visionen

The Look of Silence
Denmark/Indonesia/Finland/Norway/U.K./Israel 2014

Opening 1 Oct 2015

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
Writing credits: anonymous
Principal actors: documentary

Director Joshua Oppenheimer was born and raised in Austin Texas, USA; he studied at Harvard and later in London and presently resides in Copenhagen. He burst upon the film scene in 2012 with his documentary The Act of Killing, about the deaths of thousands of so-called Communists in Indonesia in 1965-66. This genocide was parallel to the military takeover of the government by General Suharto, who replaced former President Sukarno after more than 20 years in office. The Act of Killing features the perpetrators, who brag openly about their murderous deeds. They are still in control of the government and therefore, have no need to fear repercussions when they take responsibility for these deaths. The victims corroborate and only want to “get on with life and forget about it.”

After this first film, Oppenheimer and his Danish team continued to research the topic, although he was more wary the second time around in Indonesia, where The Act of Killing was not officially shown to the public and where he was no longer unknown to the people in power. In The Look of Silence, he discusses the genocide of 1965-66 from the view of the victims, specifically from the view of Adi, whose brother Ramli was murdered even before Adi was born. We meet the parents Rohani and Rukun, who had Adi after the death of Ramli, as kind of a new-son replacement for the one who had perished. Oppenheimer and Adi travel through Indonesia to visit the perpetrators, so that evil-doers and victim can meet eye to eye – literally. Adi is an optometrist and prescribing glasses to these people as patients is a perfect set-up for casual conversation, an interview in disguise.

The Look of Silence first showed at the Venice film festival, and has since travelled to many festivals, including recently The Toronto International Film Festival. Contrary to The Act of Killing, this one did have a huge premiere in Indonesia and showed in 116 towns around the country in just three weeks. Oppenheimer said that interviewing the perpetrators was as if he were interviewing NAZIs in a Germany, where they would still be in power. Naturally, this is not the case in Germany and the victims of World War II, especially the Jewish population, have no qualms about describing their suffering, even today. Oppenheimer, also, is definitely not the type to remain silent about genocide; his father’s family is Jewish from Berlin and Frankfurt. The victims in Indonesia will long be silent, saying, “We don’t like deep questions; it’s over. God should punish them; not us.” (Becky Tan)

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