Monday, December 23, 2013

Review of THE ACT OF KILLING: Murder They Said

December 22, 2013

The Cinemanila International Film Festival has the noble aim of bringing World Cinema to the Philippines and Philippine Cinema to the World. On this its 15th year, the festival is exclusively held at the new SM Aura. Aside from the films in competition, there are also features from World Cinema and South East Asian cinema, including up to seven contenders in the Oscar Best Foreign Film shortlist.

The Danish documentary film "The Act of Killing" is one of the films in the World Cinema category. It is directed by American director Josh Oppenheimer, who had immersed himself in this project for a decade. The final product is nothing less than bizarre.

In the 1960s, Indonesian death squads carried out mass executions mainly of ethnic Chinese immigrants assumed to be communists. In this unbelievable documentary, Oppenheimer was actually able to cajole these real-life killers to talk about and even act out their killing sprees in the guise of a whimsical film project.

Underneath the seemingly innocuous song and dance numbers and the cross- dressing, we vicariously relive the murderous acts as the perpetrators themselves describe and reenact these chilling scenes of murder as they happened years ago.

Strangely, there might be some humor to be felt as these amateur "actors" awkwardly act in front of the camera, talking about their Hollywood pegs. These death squad people relate their heinous deeds lightly and nonchalantly, as if these were totally regular events. However, you are always jolted by the fact that hey, these people actually did these harrowing acts -- stranglings, decapitations, immolations, and more -- for real!

For this unique conceit alone, "The Act of Killing" is an achievement in film making. It was able to permanently record and recreate a most infamous period in Indonesia's recent history with the full cooperation of the very men who were responsible for the reprehensible and cruel acts that marred that time. I am not sure if this type of work is unprecedented, but it is a definitely ground-breaking achievement. The medium of film was created for this. 7/10.

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