By Jill Lawless ,AP
VENICE — What is it like to look into the eyes of the men who killed your brother and went unpunished?
It’s almost impossible to imagine, but “The Look of Silence” provides a glimpse at an answer.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s haunting documentary follows Adi Rukun, whose brother died in mass killings in Indonesia in the 1960s, as he tracks down the perpetrators — seeking not revenge, but understanding.
His quest is both heroic and brave. The men behind the violence, in which hundreds of thousands died, remain powerful and untouchable. Their victims — trade unionists, alleged communists, and Chinese — are still demonized, their families cowed into silence.
“Of course I was afraid,” said Adi, a soft-spoken ophthalmologist in his 40s who traveled thousands of miles from his home for the movie’s premiere Thursday at the Venice Film Festival.
“But fear was a part of my everyday life, and the everyday life of my family, for so long that it wasn’t a totally new thing,” he said in Indonesian as Oppenheimer supplied translation.
“The Look of Silence” is a companion to Oppenheimer’s Academy Award-nominated “The Act of Killing,” which tracked down former death squad members and found them unashamed, unrepentant and willing to describe — even to re-enact — their brutal murders.
The killers’ brazen and bizarre behavior made that film a sensation, both internationally and in Indonesia, where the slayings — sanctioned by longtime military dictator and U.S. Cold War ally Suharto — remain a taboo topic.
The follow-up, one of 20 films competing for the Golden Lion at Venice, is quieter but just as shocking. Adi, who like many Indonesians primarily uses one name, is a compelling protagonist, calmly determined to break the silence.
Oppenheimer lingers on his quizzical, open face as the now-elderly killers — some of them customers whom Adi fits with eyeglasses — describe how they slit victims’ throats, hacked up their bodies and even drank their blood, considered a precaution against going crazy.
Adi was born two years after his brother Ramli was killed — his mother had prayed for a new child to replace her lost son — and grew up in a family wracked by loss and fear.