“For killing people trousers should be thick,” says Anwar, the “star” and chief exhibit in this bizarre documentary. He’s the retired head executioner of an Indonesian death squad reliving his glory days garrotting hundreds if not thousands of “communists” (ie anyone in the way) with a piece of thick wire in the mid 1960s. And though now knocking on a bit he shows us how he did it, in the place he did it, a cement yard out the back of what looks like a restaurant.
Bizarre though this is, there is more to come, because what the makers of this film have done – not sure if it was their idea or that of the participants – is to get the executioners together to make dramatisations of what they got up to. Not literal dramatisations either, though the odd one is. They stage, for example, a musical number, in which one of them gets into female drag. They dramatise one of Anwar’s dreams, in which a hideous laughable creature comes at him like something out of a 1970s horror movie. Most of all they stage gangster dramas, each imagining they’re Pacino or De Niro, how they love those guys. And – and I bet neither star will be any the easier for this knowledge – how they use Pacino and De Niro as some sort of reference point for what they did. Through it all two things become clear – how above the law they still feel (in Indonesia almost any action against “communists” is still condoned); and how powerful the camera is. Drama has accessed these guys in way that mere reminiscence – though there’s more than plenty of that too – barely could. “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”, says Hamlet. Using drama as a way of accessing truth has rarely been done so effectively.
The Act of Killing – at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2013