In 2013, director Joshua Oppenheimer released a documentary that was rather revolutionary to the medium. The Act of Killing took on the subject of Indonesian genocide from the unlikeliest of angles. Using the central figures in the historical genocide, he had them reenact the events in a Hollywood-esque production that included genre motifs. The results were staggering, sometimes tragic and comic, and unveiled something impressive in the documentary structure. This Friday marks the release of the companion piece The Look of Silence, which promises to discuss the same events, but from the innocent public's perspective. Is it possible that the filmmaker has another masterpiece on his hands?
While there have been many great documentaries over the past few years, few have felt as important as The Act of Killing. Its structure created a sensationalized, surrealistic look into history and made the art form dangerous. The exploits also explained why the documentary format is often more integral to film than fiction. As expected, The Act of Killing did get a Best Documentary nomination. It unfortunately lost to 20 Feet from Stardom. Still, its legacy lives on, providing a promising voice from Oppenheimer in the years to come.
It isn't likely that most audiences will be immediately aware of the film. While The Act of Killing has appeared on streaming services such as Netflix, it still remains mostly popular among cinephiles. In fact, the presumed limited release may also cause its own set of problems. It will be just another documentary making the rounds.
That is, unless it is as great as everyone else makes it out to be. In general, critics have been quick to acknowledge it to being a superb counterpoint to The Act of Killing. The stories are supposedly more blunt and equally as gruesome. It appears to be more of a study of how innocent people internalize the horrors that happen around them. Unlike the previous film, there doesn't appear to be any gimmick attached. Nobody is performing cinematic styles. It is just honest stories that are indeed shocking. At most, the plot describes a family confronting the person who killed their brother. While it sounds like a gimmick, Oppenheimer has a penchant for making it more of a tool to tell more impressive stories.
I have yet to see the film, though I have every intent to. If you haven't seen The Act of Killing, please do. It is a surreal and important story. It may be a hard watch sometimes, but it reflects the genuine power of the documentary at its purest. I am excited to see what The Look of Silence has in store and I am hoping that it provides something equally cathartic and impressive. Whenever I do see it, there's a chance that I will be writing up a review and sharing my thoughts. Until then, get watching and prepare for another great looking documentary.