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Oppenheimer’s ‘The look of Silence’ - Documentaries at Berlinale

NATIVe film takes us on a journey to Latin American Indigenous Cinema with a programme of 18 features from the last four decades

February 09th, 2015
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The exploration of indigenous knowledge, culture, language and tradition is challenging, yet brings new cinematic experiences and gives insight into another way of living.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s ‘The Look of Silence’ stands out from the list of documentaries in the programme. The film is a companion piece to ‘The Act of Killing’ released a year before and the story is equally boundless. ‘The Act of Killing’ revealed the mass murder of more than a million suspected communists in a wave of political violence orchestrated by Indonesia's military dictatorship in 1965-66. The perpetrators didn’t show any sense of guilt for the massacre and have never atoned for their actions. In the first film Oppenheimer paid attention to murderers and their families, now he turns to the victims.  ‘The Look of Silence’ is a film for those who feel that the director didn't go far enough in his first attempt.

Throughout the film, Adi goes to confront various men, who were involved in his brother’s killing. Now they are all weak and mostly toothless. Adi makes them look clearly at their deeds. He’s an optometrist, he travels to give eye tests to the men while teasing out the memories of the elderly murderers. The metaphor of an eye exam may seem trite, but the obstinate blindness of his clients leads him to become more bold in his questioning. The stories told are a horror of an unacknowledged collective crime.

Oppenheimer redefines the traditional documentary format by compellingly crafted cinematography. From the lingering shots and the close-ups, it is clear that he’s a visionary filmmaker, and the documentary manages to speak to its audience through the titular silence.  It is an exceptional narrative documentary.