Look of Silence – "Stunning Companion Piece"

VENICE. We picked up a few headlines from the first reviews of Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Look of Silence," premiering at Venice Film Festival.

"I had the feeling there was another film to be made," Joshua Oppenheimer explains to Nick Bradshaw in our FILM Digital Issue about the making of "The Look of Silence".  The director's companion piece to his groundbreaking "The Act of Killing" revisits the Indonesian genocide, this time telling the victims' story through the eyes of a young optician, Adi, boldly confronting the men who killed his brother – men who are still in power.

"If Joshua Oppenheimer’s 'The Act of Killing' was a full-throated scream, his follow-up 'The Look of Silence' is an ululating lament." – Indiewire

"The Look of Silence" was screened for the press at Venice Film Festival on Wednesday, and judging by the first reviews, festival audiences here and later at the Toronto Film Festival (from 6 September) are in for yet a unique cinematic experience. "The Look of Silence" draws high praise from critics across the board who agree that the film is as important as "The Act of Killing". 

Here we bring a run-down of the first international reviews:

The Guardian / Peter Bradshaw

"This film is just as piercingly and authentically horrifying as before. It is filmed with exactly the same superb visual sense, the same passionate love of the Indonesian landscape, and dialogue exchanges are captured with the same chilling crispness."

"After 'The Act of Killing,' Oppenheimer was criticised in some quarters for sensationalism and exploitation and it is conceivable that his unsparing view of Adi's desperately unhappy parents will expose this director to more objections on this score. For me, the film about Adi, his parents and his homeland has a tragic dimension, and it is obvious that he has still only scratched the surface. 'The Look of Silence' – like 'The Act of Killing' – is arresting and important film-making." Read full review at TheGuardian.com

The Telegraph / Robbie Collin

"Throughout the film, Adi goes to confront various men, now frail and mostly toothless, who were involved in his brother’s killing: he’s an optometrist, and often interviews them during eye-tests while they wear a trial frame and lenses. The symbolism here is obvious and ingenious: by confronting these decrepit thugs with his brother’s story, Adi is trying to correct their self-perception; make them look clearly at their deeds for perhaps the first time."

"This is an essential companion piece to Oppenheimer’s earlier film; another astonishing heart-of-darkness voyage into the jungle of human nature." Read full review at Telegraph.co.uk

Variety / Guy Lodge

"(…) an altogether stunning companion piece that shifts its emphasis from the perpetrators of the atrocity to their victims, all the while maintaining its predecessor’s ornate moral complexities, keen sociological shading and occasional, devastating jabs of humor."

"So involving is the raw content of 'The Look of Silence' that some might view its formal elegance as mere luxury, yet the film reveals Oppenheimer to be a documentary stylist of evolving grace and sophistication. Lars Skree's luminescent lensing provides an invaluable assist to the range and depth of testimony on show here (…)" Read full review at Variety.com

Screen International / Lee Marshall

"Oppenheimer's twin Indonesian documentaries are not mere records; they make things happen (something that earned 'Act' accusations of manipulating its subjects, which sort of misses the point of a film that uses filmic manipulations as an antidote to national brainwashing). The way films can make things happen is central to 'The Look Of Silence': it was the footage the director shot of death-squad members' testimonies between 2003 and 2005 (some of which ended up in 'Act,' and which is amply replayed here) that provoked Adi to set out on his quest for the killers of a brother he never knew – or at least this is how the causality comes across." Read full review at screendaily.com

Indiewire / Jessica Kiang

"If Joshua Oppenheimer’s 'The Act of Killing' was a full-throated scream, his follow-up 'The Look of Silence' is an ululating lament, a drawn-out wail of grief that sounds almost like a song, albeit a harrowing one. This film may feel like the aftershock after the seismic event of its Oscar-nominated precursor, but it’s an aftershock whose power is not diminished, merely transformed. Oppenheimer has found new tones and textures that make the spellbinding “The Look of Silence” equal to "The Act of Killing" in almost every other way."

"[The Look of Silence is] the story of a remarkable effort of will: to stare straight into the dark heart of a mass murder that everyone else (even other victims) wants forgotten. And Oppenheimer’s skill as a storyteller seems boundless, especially enhanced by having such an extraordinarily sympathetic on-camera interviewer as Adi." Read full review at Blogs.Indiewire.com

Discover more about The Look of Silence

FILM Digital Issue Fall 2014