Saturday, March 28, 2015

The first film I viewed at the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival

An image from the first film I viewed at this year's 
Hong Kong International Film Festival

The 39th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) kicked off this past Monday with the world premiere of "filmmaker in focus" Sylvia Chang's latest directorial effort, Murmur of the Hearts.  I had the chance to see the film even earlier than that but so far have eschewed viewing it in favor of other offerings -- partly because I don't have the greatest memories of her previous directorial effort before this one (2008's Run Papa Run, which also premiered at the HKIFF) and also because I know that her latest film (in which she doesn't appear on screen) is getting released in Hong Kong next month.

So I began my HKIFF-ing with a film that I don't think will be getting a general commercial release in Hong Kong any time soon... and here's giving advance warning that my Hong Kong International Film Festival viewing choices do tend to be made in terms of opting for the cinematic version of the road less travelled... ;b

The Look of Silence (Denmark-Indonesia, 2014)
- From the Reality Bites programme
- Joshua Oppenheimer, director
- Starring Adi Rukun

Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and an Indonesian filmmaker who's had to remain anonymous to protect his/her safety's The Act of Killing (2012) receive much acclaim for its sensational coverage of the Indonesian massacres of 1965-1966 many decades after they occured that involved the killers openly re-enacting some of the atrocities for the cameras.

If anything, I find this follow-up film -- that now has the Danish-based American filmmaker as its sole credited director but continues the practice of having a multitude of "Anonymous" crew members in its credits -- to be the more powerful work; this in large part because The Look of Silence gives a larger voice to family members of those who were wronged rather than the unrepentant guilty party involved.

The man at the center of this documentary, Adi Rukun, is an optometrist whose brother was killed in a most terrible way by people from the same village, and who the middle-aged man and his parents continue to live amongst.  Born after his brother's death (which gets described in a graphic manner by the actual murderers), Adi is told time and time again by people not to delve too deeply into the past, otherwise -- they chillingly warn him -- the terrible events that occurred then may reoccur again.

Stubbornly (and admirably), however, the soft-spoken man courageously continues with his quest to not only uncover the truth but see if those involved in the massacre of thousands, if not millions of people, feel any regret about the parts they played in the killings; with seemingly only his elderly -- but still very lucid -- mother, who remembers events that took place decades ago like they occured yesterday, and  director Oppenheimer (who more than once is directly addressed by subjects in the film) understanding his need to do what he does. 

Sadly, the bravery of Adi, Oppenheimer and co don't look like it's been really rewarded thus far.  At least Oppenheimer gets critical kudos for his documentary work but he may never feel able to return to Indonesia after making this film. Coming off worse is Adi and his family, who have had to relocate to a different part of the country for their safety.  This because not only are the killers still alive but they are very powerful people or remain backed by them.

My rating for this film: 8.0

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