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The Act Of Killing: 5 Reasons It Will Haunt You For Days

5. Our Introduction To Anwar Congo

theactofkilling6 While the term seems horribly inappropriate, Anwar Congo is the closest we have to a protagonist. A spry and softly-spoken septuagenarian, he considers himself something of a dandy. And although he certainly looks harmless, his broad smile and silver hair betray his bloody past. For, during his twenties, he made a living selling cinema tickets on the black market. It was here that, crucially, he first learned the power of extortion. From there, he and his small-time gangster friends formed the most-feared death squad in North Sumatra. Today, he is heralded as the founding father of the Pancasila Youth, a right-wing paramilitary organisation that has its clutches in almost every corner of Indonesia, including the government. Elections are rigged, votes are bought and the party grows stronger every day. Anwar is certainly an open- if not oblivious- interviewee. However, it becomes almost immediately apparent that his vision of the film may differ significantly from that of the director's. Oppenheimer chooses not to interject from behind the camera, but instead he watches with the subjective eye of a nature photographer. In the true spirit of cinéma vérité, 'his' film is already out of his hands. Anwar never questions the director's motives and, conversely, you never feel that Oppenheimer is manipulating his subjects; waiting to pounce upon seeing the first cracks to appear in their crooked smiles. As far as Anwar's concerned, the presence of a camera crew can only mean free publicity for the Pancasila Youth, as well as the irresistible opportunity to set in stone his version of events. And so he quickly sets to work. His first pitch for the film is to demonstrate just how he would torch the houses of his victims and, in casting passers-by to scream and beg for their lives, creates a very surreal opening statement. With jaw-dropping insensitivity, he fails to realise that these 'actors' were most likely to have suffered first-hand when death squads such as Anwar's stormed the city. In a further ironic twist, after yelling directions at his clearly frightened 'cast', he then praises the authenticity of their performance and simply walks away. From here he takes us to a rooftop-courtyard where, he tells us with an almost overwhelming sense of pride, he brought hundreds of victims to be killed. He then explains, in sickening detail, how he would wrap a wire noose around their neck, attach one end to a metal post and pull the other until the body slumped to the floor. There are slight pauses in his speech, which you anticipate might be his conscience finally breaking through. Perhaps revisiting the site of so much bloodshed (a place he believes has ''many ghosts'') and saying aloud such despicable things has made him rethink his ways. But no. Instead he's frustrated at recalling how much of a mess this would make. And so, as though directing an instructional video, he has a fellow gangster pose in the victim's place before telling us, ''This is how to do it without too much blood''. Suddenly, he swerves off- topic and tells Oppenheimer how, as a teenager, he loved to visit the dance halls. And there, providing one of the film's more macabre moments, he stands upon the ground that once witnessed a river of blood, and dances the cha-cha-cha.
Contributor
Contributor

Yorkshireman (hence the surname). Often spotted sacrificing sleep and sanity for the annual Leeds International Film Festival. For a sample of (fairly) recent film reviews, please visit whatsnottoblog.wordpress.com.