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Look of Silence, The

Cinedigm // PG-13 // January 12, 2016
List Price: $29.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted January 10, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

After seeing Joshua Oppenheimer's film The Act of Killing, based on the mass killings of Indonesia in 1965 and 1966, one could not fault Oppenheimer for wanting to go towards lighter fare; damn near anything could have been considered lighter cinematic fare for him. But he's said in numerous interviews that it was his intent to make two films about the killings, and the second one, The Look of Silence, is as stunning, perhaps moreso, than the first film.

Where The Act of Killing follows those on the Indonesian death squads of this time, The Look of Silence focuses on a different viewpoint of the events. The center of the film is Adi Rukun, an optometrist who lives in Indonesia. His older brother was one of the victims of those killings, and Oppenheimer had managed to capture film of those who killed his brother. And if you have seen the first film, you are familiar with the casual and braggadocious nature that many share with who they killed, how many and how they killed them. Adi is familiar with this film and he has optometrist interviews with many of those on the death squads, and those who worked with them. He fits them for glasses, and during the course of the appointment, he chooses to ask them about those times, to varying results.

It is remarkable to see how many of these men, older and without some of their faculties, continue to discuss their acts so casually. Several of Adi's interviews start the same way, as the subjects are first inconvenienced (‘why are you asking so many questions about the past?') then providing cautionary words to him (‘you shouldn't be asking these things, who knows what could happen'). It is almost as if it borders on messing with a real-life Boogeyman, which as it turns out is the case as Adi and his family have had to relocate since the film was released.

Oppenheimer uses long stretches of silence through the film as the title would suggest, and does it to perfection. Honestly, what could someone say about such atrocities, either as a relative to a victim or as a viewer? An older man talks, boasts, about slicing off body parts and drinking blood, and you can sense the pride in these things. He may be in his seventies, he may be frail, but he still seems to be connected to some sort of influence within the government that allows him to discuss such things. Which is a deliberation you come to rather quickly even if it isn't illustrated for you in the movie.

The film is not without some redemption. Adi interviews a man who mentions cutting people's throats and drinking their blood. Next to the man is his daughter, who learns of these admissions for the first time. The difference between the daughter's expressions and mannerisms from the start of the interview to the end is remarkable, and one of the most powerful moments I've seen captured on film. That the film does not end of that note when it could have, without complaint, shows how exceptional The Look of Silence is.

I'm realizing I've prattled on about the film and haven't even discussed Adi's father, who is small and requires physical care due to dementia. The father is unable to realize the kind of closure that his son obtained, and that so many people continue to be in a similar situation is another powerful point Oppenheimer manages to show. It illustrates that, for as amazing as The Act of Killing is, there is a certain sense of audacity amongst those that who killed that omits a disbelief that tamp downs on some of the emotional beats that Oppenheimer was intending to hit. In The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer banks on the existing audacity and brings the attention more to the victims, and the resulting creation is a film of remarkable emotional power.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

The Act of Killing is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with the interviews of those who killed Adi's brother appearing in 4:3 presumably because of the age of the pieces. But the greens of the jungle look vivid, the reds and blacks of clothes look excellent, and the image detail on shots of Adi is better than expected. Drafthouse certainly does right by the film in high-definition.

The Sound:

DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with the results sounding excellent. Interviews are as clean as can be, and the moments of silence communicate ambient sounds clearly and without distortion. The film is relatively devoid of active directional effects or channel panning, but does transmit a convincing level of immersion of being in the middle of the Indonesian jungles. The disc accomplishes its tasks nicely.


Oppenheimer and Errol Morris (one of the film's executive producers, along with Werner Herzog) team up for a commentary which is OK, but the problem is you have to strain to hear Oppenheimer. Either his microphone is turned down or he's off mic altogether, and compared to Morris, who is very much on mic and clearly heard during the track. Doubly frustrating is that this problem appears through the feature. They cover some things like safety for Adi, his family and the film crew, and larger thoughts on the interviewees and the themes over both films, but Oppenheimer's levels are worth mentioning in their distraction.

Thankfully the other extras bring some substance. Oppenheimer and Herzog team up for a post-screening Q&A at the 2015 Berlinale (40:32) and the results are nice. While the cover some of the same ground as the commentary, Oppenheimer recalls collaborating with his producers, and asked about other inspirations for the two films, and covers insight to style choices, intent and other cinematic ephemera. The film's Indonesian premiere is also shown (34:33), which includes insight on it from various Human Rights campaigns who want the Indo government to be more open and acknowledging of the past. Oppenheimer is there as well (via Skype) and he provides some of the production side of things. The post-premiere reaction from the crowd is shown, along with interviews with them, and a brief Q&A with Adi is included. This may be the best of the extras. Oppenheimer returns in a one-person conversation piece (18:00) where he talks about the reasons for this film, and the genesis of both films, and how he approached both movies. Several trailers for Drafthouse films follow, and a digital copy is included.

Final Thoughts:

The Look of Silence meets and exceeds the already high level of critical acclaim the film's received, with moments of immense power, told with no dramatic enhancement. Technically the disc is fine, and the bonus materials would have been a home run if it weren't for the commentary. As it is, it is required viewing.

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Highly Recommended

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