The Act of Killing – DVD review

Members of Indonesia’s 1960s death squads revisit the past in this surreal and sickening documentary

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Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012

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Documentary reconstructions often provoke controversy, but what if they involve mass murderers re-enacting their own crimes? Joshua Oppenheimer located members of Indonesia’s death squads, who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of “communists” in the 1960s, and found unrepentant, boastful national heroes only too keen to revisit the past.

In increasingly surreal scenes they demonstrate how they tortured and killed, at times adopting gangster film tropes in a kind of postmodern nightmare, at others showing flickers of regret after sickening attempts at psychodrama. But this is no mere freak show, incredibly there is humanity here too. You’ve never seen anything like it – you may not want to again.

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