Sydney Film Festival Reviewed

We reviewed some of the most buzzed films at this year's festival, including 'Dope', 'Ruben Guthrie', 'Gayby Baby' and 'Holding The Man'. Many were excellent. Some were not.

The Film That Will Mess You Up (But It’s Worth It):


The Look of Silence, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

Reviewed by: Lauren Carroll Harris

American director Joshua Oppenheimer’s last film, The Act of Killing, brought documentary filmmaking back to its core question: beyond mere education, can documentaries change the world? His innovation was two-fold: in theme, he brought a new subject to light (what impact did the 1965 Indonesian genocide have on the psyches’ of its perpetrators, and why weren’t they brought to justice?); and in genre-bending, he melded documentary with unreal fictional sequences that gave form to the war criminal’s twisted dreams. The Act of Killing was a disturbing, emotive, and impactful hybrid documentary — about as much as you could achieve in the genre.

So the stakes for Oppenheimer’s follow-up were pretty high. The Look of Silence focuses on the victims of the mass murders, allowing them to confront the perpetrators — a more conventional doco-style than giving the mike to the butchers, but a powerful one. An optometrist, Adi, interviews his brother’s killers as he assesses their eyesight — hence the title’s mixed metaphor, which refers to the blinding propaganda that has both allowed the murderers to get away with the unthinkable, and distorted Indonesian history. While the butchers are totally blinkered and self-justifying, the film’s mandate is to reveal historical truth, and ask these men, “How do you see the events of 1965?” That the film is also completely devoid of music, except for Adi’s father’s singing, completes the logic of the title: the insect-y, ambient sound mix is deathly quiet and confronting. Adi’s interviews are also sliced with footage of the slaughterers gleefully reenacting his brother’s death — and we watch him watching it in his bare-bones lounge-room. It’s properly awful.

This film is not as creatively innovative as its predecessor, but it unravels some major revelations that get to the heart of the psychic effects of political upheaval, the reality of institutionalised sadism, the difference between revenge and justice, and whether docos can have real-world effects. This is not an easy watch — for a political film, it’s deeply emotional and morally fraught. But Oppenheimer is doing important work: he is teaching us all to see again.

For fans of: Earth-shattering docos, morally complex villains, politics junkies, hard-earned post-film whisky

Opening in Australia: TBC

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