Movie Recco : The Act of Killing – Farce’s Cunnilingus on Reality

Posted: July 24, 2013 by moifightclub in cinema, Movie Recco, Must Watch
Tags: , , , , ,

The Act of Killing

This was long before Tehelka had done any expose. I think the year was 2006. A junior from college had gone on to become a yogi of sorts – a spiritual guru who over the next few years would gather a bunch of powerful politicos as his disciples and put an Orkut profile photo showing Narendra Modi reading Time Magazine with him, in his Yogi costume, on the cover.

I had shifted to Bombay to become a writer and his phone call started with respect for this ‘brave’ decision of mine. Over the next few phone calls during the week he told me about his vision for India and his love for cows, both quite reasonable, and I listened out of curiosity and courtesy. Then, after his self-praise ran dry after multiple ejaculations over 4-5 days, he came to the asli mudda.  He wanted me to head the national cultural wing of some organization/movement he was launching soon, in association with Bajrang Dal or VHP (my memory fails). I asked him what are his views on allegations on these organizations being responsible for Gujarat riots, and pat came his monologue which came back to me right after I started watching Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing.

He said of course it’s a matter of pride and an act whose time had come. It’s a happy situation that we still have youth who can put their lives on line for their nation. He said he is in fact sitting with two bhai jis who murdered a few people, including a pregnant lady and her child, with their own hands. Sensing my shock he said he and bhai jis can explain everything if I meet them in person just once. And then he handed the phone to one bhai ji when I cut the call in horror. College junior/Yogi called back saying he can understand the fear of rationals over such acts but he is sure that once I know the full story, I will not just accept but hug and applaud these people who murdered muslim women and children on the streets. A more heroic me would have gone to the cops or some TV channel, but I just cut the phone and never took his call again. (He called a number of times over the next month or so.)

This nonchalance puzzled me, kept me awake for many days. I rationalized that he might have been bluffing only, or trying to test me on something. It was too difficult to believe that people could boast about their crimes so easily, that too to almost strangers.

While watching The Act of Killing, in which gangsters hired by Indonesian military regime to kill more than 15 Lakh alleged ‘communists’ in the country revisit their acts with pride and glossy rationalization, I kept swinging between the two extreme emotions. One was the feeling of shock at this bizarre scenario – gangsters were told to re-enact the murders in whatever cinematic genre they want to and they obliged by enthusiastically recounting the methods, madness (sitting on a table placed on victim’s neck and jumping while singing), and ‘reasons’ (“God hates communists”) behind via many genres including musical, war film, crime drama, and comedy. The other was the feeling of familiarity – the feeling of having lived among such people, known them (and we all have known them in India who say ‘Sahi kiya Modi ne!’), and hence feeling no shock at this kind of behavior. It was like looking into the future if we have a Hindu-Military regime someday. The same guys I spoke to on the phone might be calling me   again to write songs for the film they would be making to celebrate their own acts of 2002.

So yes, there was a third feeling too. Feeling of ‘Is it okay if I laugh at this scenario?’ Very few films can put you in that space, that uncomfortable space between humaneness and detachment. I did laugh in a few scenes, in spite of being brain-shocked by it.  It was farce performing cunnilingus on reality.

The story unfolds through Anwar Congo and his sidekick Herman Koto. Anwar was a gangster (he says gangster means a ‘free man’) in 1965 and killed more than 1000 people in his ‘office’ by his own admission. He loved watching movies, looked like Sidney Potier, and ran the ticket business of cinema halls, and hence appears most earnest about this project presented to him by Oppenheimer. His sidekick, a present day gangster, clearly has acting ambitions as he puts his soul and direction skills in this fractured, b-grade production they are making. The film keeps switching between extremely violent and surreal recreations of 1965 killings, present day life of these gangsters (sometimes watching and critiquing their day’s work like big stars would), and moments of serene silence. And the silences are the most uncomfortable, as they should be.

Is there some moral redemption at the end of this “high-fever dream”? I don’t think there is much. Though director in an interview said of Anwar and his friends’ casual justifications for killing while recreating the scenes as their “desperate attempt to justify what they have done,” and thus, we see their ultimate humanity. If they have to cover it, they must know they have something to cover. In the recognition is the humanity. But redemption is not what the film seeks to achieve. Its attempt, in my opinion, is a much simpler one. It just wants to push these bad men into doing something decent (making cinema), and us into doing something bad (watching murder in a lighter vein, almost like they watched when they committed them). A two-way documentary, in a sense.

Not for the faint-hearted, but this is as explosive a mix of documentary, cinema, human condition, and horrors of prejudice as you will ever see. GUT-WRENCHING is an understatement.

– by Varun Grover

Comments
  1. alienlust says:

    An unnerving non-fictional-exploitation film. It was voyeuristic, surreal, amusing, and almost suffocating to watch after a point.

    And I agree with what Varun says, “So yes, there was a third feeling too. Feeling of ‘Is it okay if I laugh at this scenario?’ Very few films can put you in that space, that uncomfortable space between humaneness and detachment.”

    Definitely, a must watch documentary.

  2. hardik mehta says:

    Where can one watch this? Have been really looking forward to this. Also has a Herzog stamp of approval – so any suggestions on where to catch this?

  3. […] 12. The Act Of Killing – One word – Terrific. Our previous recco post is here. […]

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