Over the weekend, New York’s New Directors/New Films will be presenting second screenings of several of the films for which we already have roundups: Emperor Visits the Hell, Küf, and The Color of the Chameleon; and A Hijacking, Rengaine, and Burn It Up Djassa. There’ll also be a first round of shorts and first screenings of three more features.
Here at Keyframe, and no doubt elsewhere, you’ll have already heard quite a bit of noise about The Act of Killing, one of the most powerful films I’ve seen so far this year. What should be emphasized, and what you wouldn’t know if you were to walk into a screening cold, is that director Joshua Oppenheimer began work on the documentary well over ten years ago. The film he set out to make might have turned out to be a boilerplate jeremiad indicting Indonesia’s Suharto government and its minions for the brutal murder of millions they deemed “communists”—and their definition of the term was often stretched to the point of absurdity. Oppenheimer interviewed surviving victims, compiling hours of talking head testimony, but also hearing some of their reservations about the project as a whole. For one thing, they told him, very few in Indonesia would be willing to hear them out; for another, testimony from the perpetrators themselves would be far more effective, and what’s more, they’d be more than happy to talk to him. That’s how The Act of Killing became the surreal, horrifying, and utterly riveting document of warped morality and desperate self-justification that premiered last August at Telluride.
“Because many of the men got their start working as petty gangsters enforcing movie-ticket sales,” explains Andrew Schenker in Slant, “and because many of them modeled their behaviors on American movie stars such as Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, Oppenheimer offers them the chance to film their experiences, creating a movie of their own in an assortment of genres of their choosing…. Although the decision to let largely unrepentant mass murderers tell their own stories is incredibly fraught with ethical dangers…, it actually plays a far more significant role in achieving Oppenheimer’s aims. Whatever the implications of the project for Indonesia (and at least one talk-show clip included in the film indicates that the film-within-a-film is an issue of some national significance), Oppenheimer always seems fully enough in control of his material to prevent the subjects from shaping the overall narrative in unsavory ways.” Read on.
Scott Foundas in the Voice: “Both Werner Herzog and Errol Morris admitted to being shaken by an early cut of the film and offered their services as executive producers—that alone should tell you all you need to know.”
Update, 4/11: “When a movie changes the way a culture, a country, understands itself and defines its own identity, then it is hard to not call it a historic event,” writes Jesse Klein at Hammer to Nail. “This is what Joshua Oppenheimer and his team of collaborators have accomplished with The Act of Killing.”
“Channeling the aesthetics of a tasteful European art film, yet thumbing its nose at haute-bourgeois institutions, Soldate Jeannette depicts the disillusioned failure of materialism as it pushes its grass-is-greener agenda,” writes Nick McCarthy in Slant. “Ostensible enfant terrible Daniel Hoesl sets up his own progressive dilemmas, as well, focusing more on visuals than content to explore the repulsion and allure of both urban and pastoral life vis-à-vis two women moving past each other in diametric life directions.”
Soldate Jeannette won a Hivos Tiger Award at Rotterdam, and, when it screened at Sundance, Michael Nordine, writing for Film Threat, called it as “funny as Dogtooth and as silently observational as Bestiaire.” More from Robert Bell (Exclaim!), Cody Kirkland (Slug), and Chris Knipp.
“The directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel open The Shine of Day with a man, Philipp (Philipp Hochmair), taking portraits in a photo booth while dressed in costume,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “A successful theater actor working largely in Hamburg and Vienna, Philipp plays an astonishment of different roles, including that of Woyzeck, the poor German soldier driven to madness and murder…. One day Philipp’s uncle, a former circus bear wrestler (Walter Saabel) comes to visit, bringing history and an expansive heart with him. The movie initially involves the relationship between these two, a tentative intimacy that grows in surprising ways and eventually encompasses some neighbors.”
Andrew Schenker in Slant: “In not forcing any grand dramatic encounters between the various figures they observe, Covi and Frimmel allow the sense of distance between the characters to emerge organically, echoing their alienation in the frigidity of the film’s tone and making any moments of human connection all the more surprising. Still, while it’s hard to fault the correctness of the filmmakers’ approach, it still makes for what feels like almost too distanced a project.”
More from Howard Feinstein (Filmmaker) and Jorge Mourinha.
Update, 3/27: New interviews with Oppenheimer: Brian Brooks (FSLC) and Daniel Lindvall (Film International).
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