The documentary “The Act of Killing” looks at a bloody chapter of Indonesian history that is seldom discussed outside of the country. Starting in 1965, paramilitary groups that would eventually put General Suharto in power systematically murdered an estimated half-a-million people who were considered communists--which a lot of times meant ethnic Chinese and anyone the coup deemed an enemy. These death squads also enlisted common thugs and local gangsters to carry out their dirty work.
In “The Act of Killing,” first-time director Joshua Oppenheimer follows a few of these so-called “theater gangsters” who participated in the mass murder and who talked shamelessly about what they did and how they did what they did.
Their recollection went beyond verbal descriptions; Oppenheimer had the men re-enact and restage the killings in any movie genre--Western, noir, musical--of their choosing. The resulting scenes are as disturbing as they are absurd.
Warning: This trailer shows reenactments of violence:
Joshua Oppenheimer, director of “The Act of Killing.”