“The Act of Killing” – a staggering documentary full of horror

Posted: Vaiva Rykštaitė Date: 2014-02-11 03:49

Print | Comments

still from the documentary

A small man with curly grey hair and a smile on his face and twice bigger man standing next to him are two comic Indonesian gangsters. They are telling the stories with smiles on their faces when there is really nothing to smile about.

I want to believe that this is not a documentary but a social experiment though an old man is still smiling and continues his story “At first we used to kill people with the clubs but there was so bloody and smelly that I invented this technique…” then he presents, as he says, an extremely effective way of strangulation using a pole banded wire and a volunteer, stumping next to him. Later, looking to this record, says “I should not have worn white pants, dark colours suits me better”.

The film reflects the sad everyday life in Indonesia. It seems that mass killings have ended but people still remember torture, more than a million victims, the genocide of communists and the Chinese. However, the directors of a movie wanted to make a different movie so they spoke not to the victims but the guilty ones who do not feel any guilt at all. A team of creators started interviewing first people 8 years ago. The movie “characters” Anwar Congo and the thick one Adi Zulkadri are given freedom to fantasize. Creators convinced that the movie is about these men’s life (it is so), let them direct the film.

The-Act-of-Killing-Documentary

still from the documentary

Here gangsters can implement their cinematic visions which, probably, due to the cultural reasons surpass any movie, directed by any other gang. At first, you can notice enthusiasm and bad taste, then colours of artificial flowers and pomp but gangster is a gangster and the delicacy cannot be expected. Anwar Congo, personally murdered more than a thousand people, using decorations and sham special effects, reconstructs the torture, interrogations and even his own nightmares. However, the most important action takes place between rehearsals – men are talking, sharing the memories about interrogations, violence against teenagers and burning. They actually are proud on all these events. Men’s motives lay between the wild sadism and the “duty” to kill communists. Directors of a movie needed patience and imagination to reveal executioners’ experiences.

The phantasmagorical views and decorations sometimes remind an amateurish horror movie. The documentary is a real eye candy and if you turn off the sound – it would be like an entertainment show with an old man sitting in the daylight. The studio would be vivid and colourful but the only thing which would be missing is a good taste.

The executive in Indonesia belongs to gangsters which are openly promoted and supported by the Right. Anwar Congo himself is the founder of Pemuda Pancasila, the semi legal military organisation. The members of this organisation are ministers and other politicians being openly proud of corruption and the genocide. Slightly criticized for the lack of a broader historical context the film is still a very important part of the mosaic of the world’s history. It is better to watch the movie than listen to a teacher saying “Indonesia, gangsters, communists, genocide”.

A collective work of Danes, Brits, Norwegians and the directors Joshua Openheimerio and Christine Cynn was ranked the best documentary in 2013.

Full movie: