In 2012, documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer made a splash with The Act of Killing, in which he sought out members of Indonesian killing squads, individuals who murdered thousands of innocent citizens accused of being communists after a military takeover in 1965, and invited them to re-enact their crimes in the style of Hollywood movies.
The thugs happily took the bait, relishing the chance to relive their glory days in front of Oppenheimer's camera. The picture was disturbing, but it also set up an unholy bargain with its audience: Were we supposed to be shocked that genocidal killers might feel no remorse for what they'd done? Oppenheimer handed these creeps their stage and then invited us to watch the charade; afterward, we could congratulate ourselves for being appalled -- as if any sane, minimally moral person wouldn't be.
Oppenheimer has now made a follow-up, and if it's a far less flashy film than The Act of Killing, it's also a better and possibly more honest one. In The Look of Silence, Adi Rukun, a middle-aged optometrist whose older brother was tortured and killed by the regime, seeks out each of the men who had a hand in the crime — some of them now powerful officials -- and confronts them about the event. Seen through his eyes, these killers -- bragging, backpedaling, and cracking jokes in response to his earnest questions -- seem even more truly evil than they did when they were riffing, as they did in The Act of Killing, on scenes from Scarface. Watching The Look of Silence is more painful than it is cathartic, but it's an experience that burns clean.