The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer

The Act of Killing by Joshua
Oppenheimer

A
documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders
to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic
genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and
lavish musical numbers.

By omitting the historical context
behind the 1965–1966 Indonesian killings and letting the
Indonesian death squad leaders tell their own story, watching
The Act of Killing evokes the
Nietschean idea of ‘gazing into the abyss’. That if one
were to ‘gaze long
into an abyss, the abyss also
gazes into you.’ The Act of
Killing
is a deep ocean of ideas, constantly
reflecting the human condition. Every scene was like a wave, with
an entirely different idea, crashing over the previous scene and
provoked a new thought in me. My thought train spiraled and
branched off into different directions.

At first, I thought about the brutality
of man. Then it went to how history is written by the
victor.

And then I
thought about the nature of cinema and storytelling. That in the
act of telling their own story, the death squad leaders became
conscious of their past actions through the task of having to
present it to an audience. That aesthetic distance, interestingly
enough, ends up being the distance these death squad leaders needed
to truly examine what they have done.

And then I arrived at the nature of how
extreme ideas in society prevail, despite of how illogical or
inhuman they may be. That logic is relative, anyone can easily
manipulate logic to justify any action. One can make anything sound
logical to do whatever they desired in a given moment.

And like that, the film kept on
giving infinitely and its themes continually deepened. The Werner
Herzog brand of the ‘ecstatic truth’ is at play here. Each
audience member will have their own individual experience of the
film’s ideas and themes, because the film allows it so. Director
Joseph Oppenheimer never puts these men on trial and instead of
burrows for something deeper to reflect humanity at its core. These
men, like anybody, are just human. And I cared and became invested
into their emotional journey through how Oppenheimer displays their
humanity, which was perplexing at points. I had to remind myself
that they were still mass murderers.

At a two and a half hour running time,
the film is too long. It’s hard to sit with such heavy material.
There is a 115-minute theatrical cut that exists, which is 45
minutes shorter than this director’s cut. Joshua Oppenheimer
seemingly wants to covers more ground than needed and less
definitely would have been more. I stuck with it alright because I
was fascinated by the film’s subjects, but it may test the patience
of general audiences. That said, The Act of
Killing
is a great story told through subjects
that I never ever want to meet in real life.
It is an unsettling and powerful
experience and is one of the best films of 2013, if not the most
important.

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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale by Jalmari Helander

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale by Jalmari Helander

Days before Christmas, a child Pietari (played by Onni Tommila), the son of a reindeer herder Rauno (played by Jorma Tommila), stumbles across a supposed archeological excavation located on a mountain near his remote rural home. Strange things begin to occur: large herds of reindeer are found dead and children start disappearing across the town. The reindeer herders begin an investigation and unravels the shocking, ugly truth about Santa Claus.

It’s an original spin on the Santa Claus myth. The idea that Santa Claus was a supernatural being who’s duty was to punish naughty children. It put me on the edge of my seat as it was so fresh to see everything we know about Santa Claus turned into a dark evil thing. I was wondering which direction the story was going to go. The story knows exactly how much information to give you at certain points to keep you engaged and guessing. Rare Exports manages to build up its mystery up with discipline and competently builds to a worthy action-packed finale.

They manage to create some genuine dark creepy moments as well. There’s a great scene where a captured Santa Claus figure sits naked and totally unresponsive in a room. The adult reindeer herders scratch their heads over what to do with him. As a child (who has done something “naughty”) enters and the Santa figure springs to life, slowly setting his eyes locked onto the child, ready to pounce on him. The audience is ahead of the characters on what’s going on, but only so slightly. We become afraid for what will happen to these children if the parents cannot protect them from dark forces. It does touch to some cautionary tale-like themes about the safety of children (though it’s too scary for kids under 12).

The thing I loved most was how they crafted the Santa Claus conspiracy, it titters between a fictionalized conspiracy, myth and reality that makes you almost think,”Hey, this could happen.” And that balance alone makes it a fresh viewing experience.

Funny enough, I did see this during Christmas and I do recommend it as a Christmas movie if you ever get sick of watching Love Actually or any of the Die Hard movies over and over again. But in all seriousness, I wouldn’t wait till next December.

Troll Hunter by Andre Ovredal

Troll Hunter exemplifies what happens when you completely hang an entire film on it’s premise. The premise? Trolls exist in our world. We’re explained the science behind trolls, that they’re different types of trolls, that they calcify under sunlight. There is a government division called the Troll Security Team hellbent on keeping the knowledge of trolls from the public. That’s the A story and it’s all very fun and entertaining as we explore this world, but the film doesn’t provide much else due to the complete lack of a B story. As a result, Troll Hunter loses itself in its mythology.

For instance, who are these three students? Other than being classmates, why are they doing this? Who is the hunter? Why am I supposed to care about these people? The story plays out very episodically as we move from hunt to hunt. A character leaves the team but his role is easily replaced by another character. You really start to feel this gap between the various troll hunting set pieces. With every progressive set piece, the film loses its steam. That’s a shame, because the set pieces themselves are very thrilling to watch.

A lot of people would say that the ending was too abrupt. I agree, but it’s a deeper problem than that. I would say the reason the ending feels abrupt is because it’s cutting the story right before you think it’ll end as a shock moment. As if the director thinks it would leave space for the viewer to imagine the aftermath, but we don’t picture it in our heads, because ultimately we don’t care enough about the characters. This year’s Chronicle, excels for the exact same reason, it’s focus on its characters is what elevated the film beyond its found footage and superhero film contraptions.

The found footage film as a concept is losing its edge. It no longer sets the audience into the reality as it used to. It’s like shooting the Borg with the same phaser rifle, the audiences has simply adapted to its frequency and we need to move on to something else.