The Act of Killing (Director’s Cut)
I attended a film screening at the ICA, to watch The Act Of Killing. A chilling and inventive documentary, produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, about the unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads who are challenged to re-enact some of their many murders in the style of the American movies they love.
In the 1960’s Anwar Congo was a leader in Indonesia’s pro-regime paramilitary the Pancasila Youth who, along with his band of dedicated followers, was amongst those who participated in the murder and torture of more than a million alleged Communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals. Proud of their deeds and completely unpunished, Anwar and his pals are delighted when the film’s director ask them to re-enact these murders for their documentary – in any genre they desire. Initially Anwar and his friends enthusiastically take up the challenge using hired actors, making elaborate sets and costumes and even using pyrotechnics, but eventually as the movie violence is played out and reconstructed, Anwar finally begins to feel unease and remorse.
I thought The Act Of Killing, was an original, powerful and frustrating film. The director’s cut challenges contemporary concentration spans as well as pain thresholds and, in so doing, provides an immersive cinematic experience that grants thought and feeling the time and space to flourish.
The directors methodology is as unsettling as his subject matter. He calls his film, “a documentary of the imagination,” and says; “It is a human story not a film about Indonesia.” The Act of Killing probes the imagination and psychology of a group of ageing killers, who he films as they reenact their crimes and reminisce about their “glorious past”
The Act of Killing brilliantly does what documentary does best: it asks uncomfortable questions about our world. It also does what the best documentaries do: it raises troubling questions about itself.