Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 documentary The Act of Killing was one of the best factual films of the 21st century, so it’s no surprise to learn that his 2015 follow-up The Look of Silence is another outstanding directorial achievement.
While The Act of Killing focused on monsters, the corrupt government officials and death squad members at the heart of the Indonesian massacre of 1965, The Look of Silence turns to their victims through the eyes of one man; an optician (remaining anonymous for his own personal safety) whose brother was brutally murdered during the mass genocide. Under the guise of an eye examination, the optician interviews just a few of the ageing, fading men involved in the killings, as well as their blissfully ignorant wives and children, and slowly get them to reveal the dark secrets of their past.
The Look of Silence is a little flabbier in its pacing and editing than The Act of Killing, and perhaps deliberately lacks the shocking, unforgettable climax of its predecessor, but there’s no denying the film’s power, emotion, and stunning visuals. Lars Skree’s cinematography is truly sublime, making even the film’s most hideous moments beautiful. Oppenheimer recognises the power of the human face, repeatedly holding on the optician as he watches archive footage of his brother’s killer graphically describing the murder, or listens to former death squad members recount genuinely chilling tales of ritual slaughter and blood drinking (a story so vile, even the perpetrator’s daughter seems horrified).
One of the great documentary filmmakers of his generation, Joshua Oppenheimer has made another masterpiece of filmmaking; a quiet, reflective look at a man still unable to come to terms with the monstrous atrocities committed against his family in 1965. Despite being a difficult and often challenging watch, The Look of Silence is a visually stunning, emotionally devastating documentary, which should be widely lauded for giving a voice to the silent victims of Indonesia’s bloody past.