CUFF 2015 review: ‘The Look of Silence’

Tuesday 21st, April 2015 / 16:52
By Rory O’Dwyer

CALGARY — In his follow-up to the hugely successful 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer has created a meditative, sobering companion film which wonderfully concludes his saga on the 1965-1966 Indonesian genocide in The Look of Silence.

The spine of the film is the story of Adi and his family. An optometrist by trade, Adi was born after the genocide and is held up by his mother as her saving grace and replacement for his elder brother who was viciously murdered during the horrific event. Adi’s goal is to not only confront the men responsible for his brother’s death but to make them acknowledge and accept their actions as participants of the genocide. In this manner, Adi is the equivalent of the ‘genre film’ segments within The Act of Killing. A way to make the killers come face-to-face with what they have done and the effect their actions have had on everyone around them, including themselves.

Not only is Oppenheimer extremely astute in his ability to craft and guide these confrontation segments within The Look of Silence, his skills at crafting beautifully subtle imagery are magnificent as well. Throughout the film, Oppenheimer consistently returns to the image of Snake River, the location of Ramli’s, Adi’s late brother’s, death. Yet each time, the camera becomes closer and more intimate with the location. Bathed in soft blue, post-‘magic hour’ lighting, the shots of Snake River act as quiet reminders that this location is not only the grave of hundreds of people but a metaphor for the changing nature of Indonesia’s history and connection to the genocide.

As well, the use of close-ups and, the connection between eyes and Adi’s journey only add further depth to a story that could have easily been as long as Claud Lanzmann’s sombre epic, Shoah. Yet Oppenheimer exhibits respectable pragmatism in being able to reel in the story of The Look of Silence to a comfortable 99 minutes. This accessible runtime, beautiful visual imagery and engaging content all work together to make The Look of Silence one of the greatest documentaries of the decade and further proof of Oppenheimer as a master of the form.

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