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Bloor Cinema Release: The Look of Silence

July 24, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The Look of Silence

When the Indonesian military ordered the killing of anyone considered a “communist” in 1965, nearly a million people were rounded up and brutally murdered by death squad leaders, in a mass genocide that remains a blight on their country, which the government would still rather keep out of the history books.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer forced the militants to confront their actions in his Oscar-nominated film The Act of Killing, a shocking and incredibly disturbing documentary that allowed them to reenact these sadistic murders in the style of the violent movies that inspired them, many showing little to no remorse.

The filmmaker returns to the subject in The Look of Silence, a follow up that is more intimate in scope than its predecessor, but every bit as powerful.  The film opens today at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

This film follows Adi, an optometrist and family man whose brother was killed in the genocide fifty years ago, and is now confronting the men responsible, hoping to expose the truth about these tragedies that many would prefer to keep hidden.  Through meetings with the aging militants, under the guise of fitting them for eye glasses, he is forced to stare down the horrors of the past, while asking himself the ultimate question of whether or not forgiveness is possible or even deserved.

The conversations between them make for compelling viewing, at once haunting and disquieting, while also challenging our own sense of compassion.  What these men did is despicable, and the way they talk about their brutal and disgusting killings is enough to send a chill down our spines.  But Adi is searching for ways to forgive, instead of seeking revenge, perhaps as a way to provide some comfort to his ailing parents who never stopped grieving their son’s murder.

The use of gorgeously framed long takes to establish the settings, matched with unwavering close ups during the interviews, amplifies the feeling of terror lurking just beneath a seemingly normal surface.  We are forced to stare right into the eyes of these men while they describe and try to justify their sadistic behaviour, witnessing first hand the way their mannerisms both do and don’t change when they come to realize that their words are being spoken to a close victim of their actions.  Because of this, The Look of Silence is in some ways an even more personal and directly affective film than its predecessor.

As hard to watch as it is impossible to shake afterwards, The Look of Silence is one of the most emotionally draining and shockingly intimate documentaries of the year, a piece of fascinating and vital viewing that has the power to help affect change in the world.  This is a haunting and complex portrait of humanity’s capacity for pure evil, as well as the compassion and empathy that others are able to retain, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

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