Dir. Joshua Oppenhimer, Christine Cynn, Anonymous
Exec Prod: Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Andre Singer, Jorem ten Brink
Starring: Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Syamsul Arifin, Ibrahim Sinik
What’s worse? Seeing a gangster kill someone in a movie or watch gangsters talk about killing someone in a movie? Which is more excruciating? The Art of Killing is a documentary that follows two former executioners of Indochina’s militarized government of the 1960’s, as they try to make a film re-enacting the killings they committed: for one, Anwar Congo, 1000 killings. But the movie they’re trying to make isn’t of one linear story through history but in scenes showcasing different methods of torture by employing different film genres. In a typical film noir/gangster narrative, someone (acted out by Anwar who has make up resembling someone who’d face has been bruised and cut) is being interrogated about his communist affiliations. In the scene, they show how Anwar himself, used to use wire to cut or even decapitate the heads of his victims. In another interrogation scene, the same tactic is used and Anwar is instructed by the director to “Show us how to kill!”
From the beginning, the film comments on cinema’s reality and influence on the audience. When the Anwar and Herman Koto are not shooting scenes for the film, they are around trying to find actors to help them re-enact torture or raid scenes; they have people audition right in front of them. At times the acting seems so real for non-trained actors that you start to feel as if these people are used to crime. Women, children, and men, perform on the spot. You’re seeing the history of what these men did without the use of photographs or old movie clips, or the need to foster a one sided view of historical events. The Art of Killing is a movie within a movie within a movie. A few times, Anwar watches the dailies (previously recorded scenes and takes of the film in production) of his movie while being filmed watching them. In the simplest way, we go back and forth between watching a film about torture, to watching a film about a guy making a film, to watching a film about the history of Indochina’s mass killings from 1965-1966. Unlike most documentaries, this one gives the viewer a choice. The film gives you two ways to look at history, two ways to frame information. Most of the time when Anwar, Herman, and others give their reasons for killing, at the same time educating you on Indochina’s history, it comes of as nonchalant and at times remorseful. It’s very easy to take what they’re saying as the truth. To just accept it like they do. As a viewer, the horrifying but telling thing is what emotions come forth when you compare Anwar’s confessions to the re-enactments. The film brings up the notion of form, and which (documentary or narrative) are people more comfortable in accepting the information they’re being told. “ Why do people watch James Bond? For the action. Why do people watch movies about the Nazi’s? Because they were powerful and sadistic”, Anwar says. Interesting enough, Anwar keeps referring back to the fact that films influenced them. They learned their methods of killing and their attitudes from movies. “The word Gangster comes from English: It means free man. We wanted to do whatever we wanted. We wanted to be free”. No matter which way you spin it; it was still sad but commendable that these dudes tried to release their guilt.