Anwar Congo, the central figure of The Act of Killing, performs a little jig on a small roof somewhere in Medan, North Sumatra. He smiles while he dances, humming a tune remembered from one of the many nights in his youth where he would go out drinking and dancing til the morning. Earlier in the documentary Anwars tells of how back in the Indonesia Killings of 1965-66 he and his fellow paramilitary members had beaten so many people to death on this very roof that the reek of blood had forced them to stop. This was what allowed Anwars to perfect the method of killing for which he is famous in his homeland, strangulation. Mr Congo killed over 1,000 people in the space of a year, but this is just a small fraction of the anywhere between 500,000 and 2 million people murdered in an attempt to purge Indonesia of Communism.
This is just one of many scenes in The Act of Killing that made a few people leave the screening which I attended, not in protest but because hearing about the atrocities committed from the very people who committed them is deeply disturbing on a level almost never seen in modern cinema.
Perhaps hardest to accept is the culture that has arisen around these killers. Rather than being hunted or reviled they are lauded as local heroes and political icons, they shake hands with mugging and sickeningly corrupt politicians and appear on daytime talk shows where the host calls for a round of applause after Anwar describes his method of choking the life from ‘communists’. And Oppenheimer catches all of it, he doesn’t need hidden cameras because these men feel they have nothing to hide. This is the old adage “History is written by the victors” writ large in blood, with the victors live and not only unashamed of their acts but proud of them.
This film is truly chilling, but also enormously profound. There is a good chance that it will leave you shaken and will resonate with you for at least the entire day. It is a film to watch with others so that you don’t have to deal with it alone afterwards, a film which will leave you speechless. Anwar Congo, a man who dances on the site where he took part in genocidal activities, is the most human of all the death squad members interviewed. That alone should tell you just how despicable the ‘characters’ of this piece are.
I wholeheartedly recommend this film for anyone interested in the events that took place, anyone who loves good film making and anybody wishing to explore the truly dark side of human nature.
The Act of Killing (2012), directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and Anonymous, is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Dogwoof Pictures, Certificate 15.