The Act of Killing (2012)


This is with no doubt a difficult film to watch and I couldn’t sit and watch it in one go. I saw it in parts because it was both long and more than this, it was hard to take in. A thought provoking documentary centering on the past actions of cinema gangsters and the crimes they carried out. The view that Communism was a sin was their motive to kill a huge number of people and this docu-drama follows one man in particular as he reenacts some of the murders that he helped commit.

It’s an unsettling film that jumps between interviews and role playing, lurching you from hearing their stance on what and why to suddenly seeing them play dress up to act out differing interrogations and killings. It’s a bold idea and some scenes like the first ‘The Deer Hunter’-esque act or the village massacre scene come across like haunting visions that you can utterly believe happened. The most worrying thing about it though is the factual element, hearing and seeing these men talk openly about what they did is terrifying. That’s the difficult thing to watch as they discuss rape, beheadings, strangulations and more as easy as talking about what to have for lunch.

The scene in the Indonesian jungle featuring a beautiful fish structure really looks like a dream with its enhanced glow effects and especially when the murderers centre in a Born Free musical number you start to wonder what on earth is going on. The idea to interview and let the men act out what they did is interesting and the latter half of the documentary fares better when we find more consequences of the past and see how the main man reacts when looking back over his role-playing. When he revisits the rooftop killing floor for the second time it becomes hard to watch and you feel for him as you can imagine the ghosts of his victims flooding out of their suppressed hiding place. It’s an odd balance of emotions as you hate what he did but then he had to do it and how he feels at this specific point must be horrendous.

I don’t condone what he and they all did and I am still at a point where I am not on his side – even after the end but this documentary and it’s unique idea helps shed light on their lives and makes you understand more than before. It’s a strangely beautiful and dark British/Norwegian/Danish documentary with a deep theme and story to tell. A long, hard process with some home-shot scenes adding nothing (like Herman brushing his teeth), seeming only like background filler to make them more human, which we’ve already been shown enough times until the next big interview or acting scene comes into life.



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