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DVD: The Act of Killing | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Act of Killing

DVD: The Act of Killing

Disturbing account of Indonesia’s normalisation of the aberrant, corrupt and depraved

State-sanctioned killer Anwar Congo (in black) and friends celebrate the act of killing in fine style

Special Dialogue is a frothy, lunchtime news-and-chat programme on Indonesia's national television channel. One day – not a special day – its bubbly female anchor hosted three older men. One was called Anwar Congo. She smilingly introduces them by saying “Anwar and his friends developed a new, more efficient system for exterminating communists. It was more humane, less sadistic and avoided excessive violence.” It’s one chilling moment amongst many in a powerful film.

Congo (pictured below right) was an executioner for the Suharto regime which took power in 1965. Before turning to contracted-out killing for the state, he was a petty gangster selling black-market cinema tickets. He killed at least 1000 supposed communists and was among the many members of the country’s death squads. Now he is a celebrated public figure. In The Act of Killing, he’s happy to demonstrate how he killed by wrapping wire around his victim’s necks.

The Act of Killing Anwar CongoThe Act of Killing must be one of the most creative documentaries ever made. Initially, it resembles the craziest Werner Herzog film you’ve never seen. Appropriately, Herzog saw an early version and became its executive producer alongside Errol Morris - who remarks on one of the extras that “to call it surreal doesn’t do it justice”. Director Joshua Oppenheimer spent six years in Indonesia making the film. Congo – the film’s centre – was the 11th of 41 killers he had met. Co-directing with Christine Cynn and a local who had to remain anonymous as Indonesia is so dangerous, Oppenheimer asked Congo and his co-killers to remake their deeds in film. They happily acquiesced and chose to do so in the style of the American movies which inspired them.

This deeply bizarre and disquieting film ends so ambiguously that it questions the nature of documentary itself – asking whether what filmmakers and their subjects put before an audience can be taken at even close-to face value. Fittingly, the extras on the DVD release are top-drawer: interviews with Herzog and Morris, a long-form television interview with the eloquent, knowledgeable and passionate Oppenheimer, shelved footage and, on a second disc, a different cut of the film. See the original first. Then ponder it for some time before watching any of the extras. This, on its own, is landmark cinema.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Overleaf: watch Joshua Oppenheimer discussing The Act of Killing

Watch Joshua Oppenheimer discussing The Act of Killing

This deeply disquieting film ends so ambiguously that it questions the nature of documentary itself


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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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