<img src=”http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/AG-AD311_Ziv_G_20121205112448.jpg” /> Adi Zulkadry and Anwar Congo making up for their key roles
<strong><u>I watched a film on Friday evening</u>.</strong>
In late 1965, the Indonesian army orchestrated the killing of communists and suspected sympathisers in reprisal for what they claimed was an attempted Communist coup. It proved to be one of the great mass killings of the 20th century. It was the beginning of the passing of power from Sukarno to Suharto.
Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s (exec producer Werner Hertzog) film, ‘The Act of Killing’ has focused on the perpetrators of this slaughter and it has become what I believe to be a unique examination of the lives of killers as they grow old among both supporters and survivors.
In making the film, numerous original members of the ‘gangsters’ as they proudly call themselves, were made up and directed to act out<!–more–> their killing sprees. They also proudly displayed their trophies and looted art works in their palatial homes, rather as Goering would proudly display his Vermeers and van Dykes to his Nazi friends. But the similarity ends there; Goering had taste, these modern day Nazis collected Tretchikov trash, glass dolphins, badly stuffed tigers and an Antelope head, hugely prized because of its critically endangered status.
<img src=”http://b.vimeocdn.com/ts/343/330/343330995_640.jpg” />
The survivors too were pressed into the action and as one of the tormentors boastfully demonstrated how he would use thin wire and a piece of wood to murder his victims the cinema audience seemed paralysed, uncertain that we weren’t actually watching the real thing, a snuff movie, so horrifying it was. Two hours watching laughing, joking mass-murderers, revisiting their blood-drenched past in a manner at once insanely surreal and distressingly domestic, was something of an ordeal too fascinating to look away from (though two viewers did run from the cinema).
<img src=”http://cdn.realscreen.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/The-Act-of-Killing1.jpg” />
Towards the end the Boss Man, a grinning thug, Anwar Congo, is interviewed on Indonesian TV by a possibly sexually excited presenter who claps her hands and cries ‘Good’ as Congo describes and justifies his behaviour in front of the cameras and an applauding studio audience.
<img src=”http://b.vimeocdn.com/ts/407/572/407572060_640.jpg” />
But some of the killers, now forced to become reenactors rather than perpetrators became somewhat uneasy; “We shouldn’t look brutal,” says the leader of the Pancasila youth, after watching a baying mob whipping themselves into an axe-wielding frenzy. “We shouldn’t look like we want to drink people’s blood – that’s dangerous… for the image of the organisation.”
<img src=”http://aarhus.guide.dk/files/Nyheder/film/2012/act-of-killing.jpg” />
There have been no official screenings in the country where it took place, though it has been shown in about 265 underground screenings, with secret invitations among small groups, but there is the fear that police might try to block the screenings. Still, by the end of February this year, some 10,000 have been to see it.
A national police spokesman did not respond to questions asking whether the police would have tried to stop showings of the film.
These people are free and presumably protected by the Indonesian government. They are regarded as heroes by the local population. One of the killers is asked if he did not worry that he might have to face the ICC in the Hague, after all the film is gold to any criminal prosecutor. ‘Of course not’ he said, ‘I would be happy to fly to Brussels, (sic) they would understand why I did it, it HAD to be done.’ But then, perhaps he was aware that Indonesia, like North Korea, Pakistan or Saudi, were not and had no intention of being, signatories to the Rome Statute.
Still, an application for the extradition of these murderers would certainly put the Indonesians on the spot.
Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladić, Goran Hadžić, they have all been brought to trial. Why not Anwar Congo and the other death squad leaders, many of them anonymous in the credits but quite a few named and unambiguously condemning themselves from their own mouths?