Top 100 Films Of The 2010’s – #11 – The Act Of Killing (2012)

RELEASED: 28th June 2013

DIRECTOR: Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn

CAST: Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Syamsul Arifin, Ibrahim Sinik, Yapto Soerjosoemarno, Safit Pardede, Jusuf Kalla, Adi Zulkadry, Soaduon Siregar, Suryono, Haji Marzuki, Haji Anif, Rahmat Shah and Sakhyan Asmara



AWARDS: 1 BAFTA (Best Documentary)

A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.


The Act of Killing focuses on the perpetrators of the Indonesian killings in 1965-66, in which when the Suharto overthrew Sukarno, the President of Indonesia. Following the failed coup of the 30th September Movement in 1965, where local gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry were promoted from selling black market film theatre tickets to leading the most powerful death squad in North Sumatra, which led to almost a million people from the communist community being killed.


The Act of Killing is a collaborative effort from directors Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and ‘Anonymous’ (which is explained in the Did You Know section below). Set in present day in the city of Medan, North Sumatra (Indonesia), the documentary, primarily focusing on gangster Anwar Congo, who following the failed coup of the 30th September Movement, became the leader of the most powerful death squad in the province, claiming to have personally killed a thousand people. Now, Anwar is admired by the paramilitary organisation that grew out of the death squads, Pemuda Pancasila, with members including government officials. What Oppenheimer does however, is invite Anwar to share his story, recount the experiences of the killings for the cameras, which are then shot in the style of Anwar and others favourite style of films, from westerns to gangsters. What follows through the duration of the documentary is unlike anything that I seen before and upon various rewatches (mainly to see other peoples reaction to watching it for the first time), and the shock value still remains intact from the first viewing. What makes the documentary work so well is that, bar the exception of a few lines, the documenter serves to capture, not narrate, allowing these individuals to tell the story their way and while it’s something to get the members of the death squad to reenact certain murders, it’s the way in which some of them view it, with some boasting about it, others believing it simply had to be done but are now worried how this whole documentary will effect their public image, and we do see how a few state that what they done was wrong. It’s also a sight to see how they’re embraced as role models, almost walking the streets with a certain celebrity status, particularly in one of the documentary’s memorable moments which we watch Anwar being interviewed on Indonesian National Television show Special Dialogue along with members of the Pemuda Pancasila, which will leave viewers flabbergasted. The reenactments speak for themselves in which the methods the death squads took in killing those on the suspicion of being a communist, coldly explaining how moving from stabbing to strangling was the best method of killing as it was not only less messy, but ‘more humane’. While the reenactments are difficult to comprehend mentally, as we witness how the victors are rewriting the history of what happened from their point of view, we see Anwar’s journey of reenacting these moments and how uncomfortable its making him feel, as a small part of his conscience that has these memories haunt him about what he’s done. A haunting documentary that will live long in the memory for me. I would also recommended finding and watching the companion documentary to this, The Look of Silence.


FAVOURITE SCENE: The closing scene with Anwar Congo, as he revisits the rooftop where he claims many of the killings take place. We visit the rooftop at the start of the documentary, and here, after the reenactments of filming has finished, we get to see visually how this process may have effected him.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: “It’s a good family movie; plenty of humour; a great story; Wonderful scenery. It really show what’s special about our country even though it’s a film about death.” – Anwar Congo

DID YOU KNOW: The co-director, as well as 48 other members of the film crew in 27 different positions, are credited as ‘Anonymous’ because they still fear revenge from the death-squad killers. The 41-year-old Indonesian who shared directing credit with Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn, could only wonder, ‘How could these people tell these horrible stories so lightly and so proudly? You just want to challenge them right away. But you have to keep telling yourself to be patient, to let them tell the story the way they like. Because then we can learn something about the whole system of destruction.’


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