Cert: 15 Runtime: 115 mins Director: Joshua Oppenheimer Cast: Anwar Congo, Herman Koto and Syamsul Arifin
A story of killers who win, and the society they build
The Act Of Killing is a documentary that I watched a few months ago, I don’t know how I forgot to review this film. Truly it’s something to be viewed by any budding documanterian or film-maker. It has been swooping a lot of awards across the globe, and with the Oscars this weekend it will surely win the grand prize. So what is The Act Of Killing? Anwar Congo and his friends have been dancing their way through musical numbers, twisting arms in film noir gangster scenes, and galloping across prairies as yodelling cowboys. Their foray into film making is being celebrated in the media and debated on television, even though Anwar Congo and his friends are mass murderers. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands.Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to acts of genocide.
While the film does lack a bit of historical context this is not the point, and that minor criticism can be overlooked. If anything, hopefully this encourages people to look into that time more and learn a few things about this crazy world of ours. The men featured in this film are a strange lot, arguing that their country suffers from “too much democracy”, as they reflect on the days when life was allegedly better under military rule. Constitutional amendments were passed in the late 90’s that effectively ended any sort of dictatorship.The primary focus is on Anwar Congo, a “movie theatre gangster” who is revered as a founding father of the right-wing paramilitary organization Pemuda Pancasila that grew out of the death squads. If anyone is said to be positively affected by this whole experience, it is Anwar. How sincere or remorseful he truly is only Anwar himself knows, but he does finally seem to come to the realization that he is a mass murderer with an ocean of blood on his hands.He is sadly the minority. While the general population “gets it” that death squads are probably not right, the bulk of the former killers are more than happy to make humorous skits and songs about their exploits. With colourful costumes, dancers, beheaded dummies and simulated cannibalism, they gleefully tell the cameras how they killed their victims. This may be the first surreal documentary, putting even Bunuel and Dali to shame.To know that these men are the same as we are, only different by the pure chance of where and when they were born, is a terrifying prospect.