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The Look Of Silence (#110 of 5)

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions Documentary

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Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Documentary

A24

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Documentary

Only two rather basic flavors are represented in this year’s documentary Oscar rundown, and it’s to the doc branch’s great shame that they couldn’t see fit to nominate a pair of movies each containing multitudes that would give Baskin-Robbins a cold sweat: Laurie Anderson’s very subjective and philosophical Heart of a Dog, which astonishingly managed to make it to the list of 15 finalists, and Frederick Wiseman’s uncompromisingly democratic In Jackson Heights, which didn’t. A nomination for either would have single-handedly liberated the entire category from its continuing, medium-reductive fascination with activist-leaning, politically charged current-events studies and intimate, troubled personal portraits from the arts industries.

Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2015 Numbers #25-#50 and Individual Ballots

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Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2015

Sundance Selects

Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2015

From James Lattimers’s introduction to Slant Magazine’s Top 25 Films of 2015: “The wonderful thing about cinema is how it resists easy ordering principles. Once you start thinking about the movies you’ve seen, they automatically blur into one, a glorious procession of images, sensations, and recollections that is itself like escaping into the darkness of the auditorium. Yet this quality becomes a hindrance as soon as you need to pick out individual films from the flow: Which film did I see at which time and how did it make me feel both now and then? How we consume films today makes things even harder, as both the proliferation of film festivals, themed programs, and retrospectives in New York and beyond and the wealth of Blu-ray editions and streaming options actively encourage us to think boundless.” Click here to read the feature and see if your favorite films of the year made our list. And see below for a list of the films that just missed making it onto our list, followed by our contributors’ individual ballots. Happy reading.

BAFICI 2015 Vergüenza y Respeto, The Look of Silence, 35 and Single, The Royal Road, & More

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BAFICI 2015: Vergüenza y Respeto, The Look of Silence, 35 and Single, The Royal Road, & More
BAFICI 2015: Vergüenza y Respeto, The Look of Silence, 35 and Single, The Royal Road, & More

Seen together, many of the excellent documentaries screened at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (BAFICI) articulate a surprisingly coherent argument about nonfiction filmmaking and its relationship to the real. The people on screen might not be invented characters, and their words might not (explicitly) be the creations of screenwriters, but the camera means mediation and performance. Someone selects the shots, presses the record button, and edits the footage, while the filmed subjects know they’re being filmed and knowingly create a version of themselves for the consumption of unknown audiences. Rather than ignore this phenomenon, some of the best documentaries take advantage of it, emphasizing how capturing reality is a way of intervening in it.

No other film at the festival conveyed this as forcefully as Tomás Lipgot’s Vergüenza y Respeto, concerning the Romani community in the greater Buenos Aires area. At the screening I attended, the film’s subjects were actually in the theater, cheering, applauding, and laughing at their projected selves, transforming the cinema into their living room. Cinematic portraits of minorities often establish a distance between the observer and the observed, between the director and his or her subjects, which then grows into an irreparable abyss between the viewers and the viewed. To pose an Argentine example: Even the canonical, fictional works of Lisandro Alonso, though they interrogate the marginality of the rural characters, end up reinforcing their inscrutable Otherness. Alonso himself acknowledges this problem in his meta-textual, self-reflexive Fantasma, in which blinkered city-dwellers, after watching the director’s own Los Muertos, fail to meaningfully connect with its provincial star, who travels to Buenos Aires for the quiet, underpopulated screening. “Who is this movie for?” Alonso seems to ask.

True/False Film Festival 2015: The Look of Silence, Those Who Feel the Fire Burning, & How to Change the World

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True/False Film Festival 2015: <em>The Look of Silence</em>, <em>Those Who Feel the Fire Burning</em>, & <em>How to Change the World</em>
True/False Film Festival 2015: <em>The Look of Silence</em>, <em>Those Who Feel the Fire Burning</em>, & <em>How to Change the World</em>

Director Joshua Oppenheimer emphatically suggests that all of humankind’s troubles begin and end with the body. With The Act of Killing and its companion piece, The Look of Silence, the filmmaker offers startling concentration of how members (though mostly men) of a community can be so stridently abusive and murderous to one another, but still carry out such operations with a smiling, almost carefree abandon, that when asked to recount their deeds, they do so with a willingness that suggests they’re talking about something as seemingly innocuous as their days in elementary school.

Such a comparison isn’t arbitrary, however, because unlike The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence is directly concerned with generational lore, as attitudes and values both personal and political are disseminated in schools and perpetuated as fact rather than roundly unfounded propaganda. Adi Rukun sits and watches videos of members of the Indonesian death squad’s featured in The Act of Killing; in effect, Adi is watching that film, often in tight close-up, with nary a change of expression to his emotionless face. Adi’s brother Rimli was killed during the coup, but the killer’s explain over and over again that he was castrated, even fully reenacting (with one of them bent over) the actual action as it took place. Oppenheimer has an uncanny ability to get grown men to act like adolescents, playing out their actual murders as if they were simply childhood fantasies of war and adulthood.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie

For all its acuity and innovation, The Act of Killing always risked emphasizing its groundbreaking method—crafting a psychological profile of two Indonesian mass murderers by making them reenact their crimes—at the expense of its most critical message: that the killers profiled in the doc were not only free men, but celebrated heroes in a country still run by people who, shortly after a 1965 military coup, helped murder somewhere between 500,000 and a million Indonesians accused of being communists. With the equally brilliant The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer risks no such misplaced focus.