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The Act of Killing


Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 6:30 PM
Center for Korean Studies Auditorium

Denmark (2012, 122 min)
Indonesian w/English subtitles

Directors: Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, Anonymous
Music: Elin Øyen Vister
Cinematography: Anonymous, Carlos Arango de Montis, Lars Skree
Cast: Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Adi Zulkadry, and many others

Early in “The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s startling new documentary about mass murder and impunity in Indonesia, a death squad leader named Anwar Congo, dapper in white pants and a lime-green shirt, demonstrates how he strangled hundreds of people with wire. It was quicker and less messy than beating them to death, he explains matter-of-factly, then breaks into a dance routine, performing the cha cha cha for the camera.

“The Act of Killing” is crammed with unsettlingly bizarre moments like that, blending the horrific and the absurd in a disturbing cocktail. Time after time, the killers joke and brag about their deeds, which earns them applause on an Indonesian TV talk show, praise from officials in the government in power today and condemnation from the human rights groups that want to see them brought to justice.

But Mr. Oppenheimer’s film, which counts Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as its executive producers and was made by a largely Indonesian crew, is also stirring controversy because of its unorthodox form. Re-enactments are always a source of disagreement in the documentary world, but Mr. Oppenheimer has taken that longstanding debate to a new level by encouraging the perpetrators of human rights abuses to restage their crimes, on film and for a global audience.

But no matter what you call it, Mr. Morris said “The Act of Killing” was a work of art. Prefacing his remarks by saying, “I think I can speak independently of my role as executive producer, because I have no financial interest in this film,” he continued: “The most you can ask from art, really good art, maybe great art, is that it makes you think, it makes you ask questions, makes you wonder about how we know things, how we experience history and know who we are. And there are so many amazing moments like that here.”

-Larry Rohter, NY Times

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