Wednesday 21 February 2018

Chilling and effective murder poses

Paul Whitington

Film Review: The act of Killing (No Cert, Light House, 116 minutes) 5 STARS

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer Stars: Anwar Congo, Adi Sulkadry

Most mass murderers come over all coy when it comes to discussing the details of their butchery, but not Anwar Congo.

Congo, who must be touching 70 now, wears loud Hawaiian shirts and smiles a lot (he's proud of his teeth) and seems an innocuous fogey: but he was once the leader of a terrifying Sumatran death squad and is said to have killed up to a thousand people with his own hands.

Anwar is the star, if that's the right word, of Joshua Oppenheimer's compelling and extraordinary new film, a documentary that employs refreshingly unconventional methods.

Following the failed coup in Indonesia by the 30 September Movement in 1965, the generals embarked on an anti-communist purge in which between 500,000 and a million people died in just one year.

The 'communists' they targeted were anyone they didn't like, from intellectuals and political opponents to the despised and resented ethnic Chinese. The army used irregular militias and 'gangsters' to carry out their dirty work, and Congo was one such killer.

Rather than conducting a series of visually uninteresting interviews to camera, Oppenheimer asked Congo and his old comrades to show him how they killed their victims and even stage reenactments.

And as these chilling recreations of distant murders become ever more elaborate, it emerges that the gangsters have dealt differently with the impact of killing.

While one of Congo's colleagues, Adi Sulkadry, watches impassively a torture-killing being acted out with disturbing gusto, it's all too easy to imagine how mercilessly he engaged with the real thing.

But Congo is troubled by bad dreams, and the rudiments of a guilty conscience.

He has recurring nightmares about a man he beheaded, and whose dead eyes continue to stare at him. And though Congo and the others will insist they were doing the work of the state and protecting their country from the red menace, not all of them seem convinced.

The Act of Killing is hard to watch, but impossible to ignore. And by getting these grotesque old posers to mince before the camera, Oppenheimer brilliantly exposes the terrible banality of evil.

Irish Independent

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