TIFF 2014: The Look of Silence
After making The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer goes back to the same subject matter for his follow-up The Look of Silence. A brief background: In The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer followed several people responsible for slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands, of suspected communists in the 1960s military coup of Indonesia. Oppenheimer was shocked to see that, not only did the military get away with murdering over one million people, the perpetrators continue to stay in power, bragging openly about their war crimes.
Oppenheimer’s ability to let the killers indulge led to sickening profound results, but for The Look of Silence the perspective switches from criminal to victim. Adi, an optometrist in a small village, wants to expose the reality about his country’s past, his motivation being the brutal murder of his older brother by death squad leaders. Since these war criminals are Adi’s neighbours, he’s able to see them under the pretense of checking their eyes for new glasses. Oppenheimer films Adi as he gently probes and confronts the men responsible for his brother’s death, something that causes plenty of resistance from the interview subjects.
Scenes of Adi confronting the men responsible for his brother’s death are inherently compelling, but compared to Act of Killing, a complete masterpiece, The Look of Silence doesn’t come close to matching its predecessors’ greatness. Oppenheimer focuses on the denial and excuses people make for their past atrocities, but this was already covered effectively in The Act of Killing. The confrontations end up providing exactly what one would expect: constant denials, lies and anger at the line of questioning from Adi. The Look of Silence definitely packs a lot of power, but it feels more supplementary to Oppenheimer’s brilliant first film.