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Entries in The Act of Killing (7)

Saturday
Feb202016

Interview: Joshua Oppenheimer and Adi on The Look of Silence

Amir here. I first fell in love with Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence in September 2014, at TIFF. It was the last, and best, film I watched at that festival, and it left an emotional mark that I lived with for days. I caught up with the film again when it was released for the public and my conviction that this was one of the best documentary features of all time was reaffirmed – in my book, one of 2015’s holy trinity of films. So, you can understand my excitement when I finally had the chance to speak with director Joshua Oppenheimer, and Adi, the subject of his film.

The Look of Silence, nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary, a companion piece to the director’s earlier film The Act of Killing (also nominated in its year), is about the victims of the Indonesian genocide, who live side by side with the men who perpetrated those crimes against their loved ones. In his graceful and compassionate study of these people and their haunted spaces, Oppenheimer finds the language to bring invisible pains to the screen and push the limits of documentary form.

We talk about the relationship between his two films, his experiences in Indonesia, influences on his filmmaking, where documentary cinema stands today, and Adi’s life after the film’s release.

AMIR SOLTANI: I know you’re probably tired of comparisons between your two latest films, but I feel like there’s nowhere else to start but The Act of Killing. There’s a theatrical element to the first film that The Look of Silence, despite being polished, stylized and even often staged, doesn’t have. It’s more formally understated. What initiated your formal approach to the second film?  

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: I think these two films are both rigorously about the present, or rather, the past’s role in the present. [More after the jump...]

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jul242015

The Look of Silence

Amir returns to his favorite 2014 festival film, newly arrived in theaters...

Midway through The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to the 2013 Best Documentary Nominee The Act of Killing, there is a seemingly innocuous moment that sends chills down the spine. The film’s protagonist, Adi, and a male companion are trudging through the forest as they discuss their assassinated family members. Slowly reciting the “Ashhad,” Muslim prayer for the departed, they arrive at a river that runs through the trees. The camera stops as they exit the frame. The forest’s natural humming and buzzing, and the slow movement of the water in dusk’s light lend the moment a haunting eeriness. The weight of their wounds lingers above the water; the emptiness of the space is terrifying.

This sequence is not unique to the structure of the film, a documentary whose emotional impact and, frequently, its thematic development, hinges on small, quiet moments; a shot of a motorcycle riding away toward the forests, a woman sitting still at the doorway of her house, a long gaze that captures the gravity of decades of history.  Every miniscule gesture is effective, and the cumulative impact of these small wonders adds up to a film that is, without hyperbole, one of the best documentaries ever made.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep242014

NYFF: The Look of Silence

The New York Film Festival begins this Friday, and here our pre-coverage continues with Jason taking on Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary The Look of Silence.

It was Winston Churchill who said that, "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it." And so it's gone for as long as there has been war, or even just one caveman bonking another caveman on the head with a bone fragment a la the opening scenes of 2001 - to the winner goes the watering hole, the bragging rights, the spoils. Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer smells those spoils, and they stink.

The Look of Silence follows up on the promise of Oppenheimer's brilliant 2012 documentary The Act of Killing with devastating precision - where that first film took a long strange trip past some surreal dance routines slash murder reenactments performed by those on the "winning" side of history after the 1965 Indonesian genocide, Silence trains its eye on those left devastated in the wake of that original horror, those who continue to live under the thumb - much is made of how these people are neighbors, seeing each other every day - of those in power who now gleefully recount the atrocities, ones which viewed backwards through the lens of rose-colored self-righteousness and propaganda seem, to them, to be patriotism, heroism.

Oppenheimer picks at the scab of scarcely buried history - a "wound" is continually referred to, and he makes you feel as if the muddy floor of the jungle might flood open with gore at any moment. These villages seem wet with it - brown rivers run buoyed with invisible bodies, ghosts heavy and thick in the air like electrical storms. The victors can sense it too; they swat at the camera's insinuations like there's a cloud of gnats too small for us to see, their lips tremble, and as the rumbling in their bellies uneases them they try to squirm their way free - they're proud of their accomplishments until the script flips and they suddenly feel looked upon, and after that it's a torrent of equivocations: "I wasn't the one in charge," "I was just doing my duty," and on.

As with The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence feels extraordinary to even exist, especially in a day and age such as this where we can't really wrap our minds around people (especially politicians) not ten sentences and head-nods ahead of how they're coming off - but then, why should these men care? They won, at whatever cost - like mankind in God's image, like a rib torn from Adam to craft Eve, the past was molded and built by the beat of their bloodied knuckles. It is written.

At one point the daughter of one of the murderers illustrates this generational gap - the way the reality of the past has been sanded down with willful and precise misrepresentation - and as we watch her resolve shake upon hearing the truth what he father's heroism really consisted of it's as potent as a tidal wave. These people are neighbors alright, but only some of them seem to know their houses are build upon fields of blood and bones and unaccounted-for barbarism. And those who know, they watch and they wait, hoping someone - an Old Testament God seems as if not more likely than an American documentary filmmaker - will give voice, and vision, to their pain.

--

The Look of Silence screens at NYFF on Tuesday September 30th at 6:30pm and on Wednesday October 1st at 9pm.

Tuesday
Jan142014

The 2nd Annual Team Experience Award Goes To...

Amir here, to bring you the results of the 2nd annual Team Experience Awards, a poll of the year’s best in film by the international group of writers who contribute regularly to this website. In our inaugural edition, Leos Carax’s off-kilter French fantasy, Holy Motors, won the top prize. This year, our 14 voters are more in synch with the American awards season tune. I think it’s fair to say we all like 12 Years a Slave. Like, really, really like 12 Years a Slave. If Steve McQueen’s film were Sally Field, we’d be the Academy circa 1985.

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
 (Steve McQueen)
Runner-up: Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach) 

BEST DIRECTOR
Steve McQueen
 (12 Years a Slave)
Runner-up: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) 

However, the consensus and the number of categories topped by Slave don’t quite reflect the intense competition behind the scenes. In fact, only two categories were landslides: Best Picture and Best Visual Effects. Elsewhere, the competition was intense and never really took shape until the last ballot was in. In the best supporting actress category, for example, five women were within an inch of each other, and Emma Watson (The Bling Ring) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Only God Forgives) missed out on the runner-up spot by a hair. The nitty-gritty of our votes further down but now the winners of the 2nd Team Experience Awards...

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jan092014

DVD Review: The Act of Killing

Tim here. As Team Experience’s representative lover of The Act of Killing above all other movies in 2013 (if “love” is the right word for such an bleak portrait of humanity’s worst side), it naturally falls to me to trumpet the Good News that one of the year’s best-reviewed films that you probably haven’t had a chance to see yet is now on DVD and Blu-Ray. At just the right moment, too, in advance of the Oscar nomination that I’m honestly not expecting it to receive; the Documentary branch hasn’t been in the business of making me that happy, and it’s not fair to expect otherwise.

It’s not the kind of film that readily lends itself to breathless statements of the “you HAVE to see this!” sort. For it is, after all, a documentary about mass political killings, one of the unlikeliest subjects in the world to produce a frolicsome entertainment that everyone will enjoy. That being said, you probably do have to see this. It is unlike any other cinematic analysis of its subject that I’ve ever heard of, let alone seen, with the filmmakers (those being director Joshua Oppenheimer, co-director Christine Cynn, and another co-director remaining anonymous for reasons of personal safety) going straight to the men who headed the anti-Communist death squads in 1965 and ’66 (regarded as heroes in Indonesia), and offering them a chance to make their own cinematic interpretations of their past deeds.

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Tuesday
Dec312013

Team Experience Top Tens. The Stories They Tell... 

I, Nathaniel, am still in the process of cramming screeners into my bloodshot eyeballs (I know that's not the best way to do it but that's what happens each year at this exact time). Next weekend, at the very latest, I'll deliver my own top ten list. Until then, I thought it might be fun to see what our magic elves were into this year. A few of the regulars opted out, since they like quite a lot more time to mull things over or they're too busy with their classic hollywood obsessions (you are going to LOVE what Anne Marie has cooking for 2014). But Jose, Amir, Glenn, Tim and Michael and an unexpected guest perservered and their lists are here for your perusal and rental queue consideration. 

Click to read more ...