The Act of Killing (Jagal)
Synopsis: Anwar Congo and his friends have been dancing their way through musical numbers, twisting arms in film noir gangster scenes, and galloping across prairies as yodelling cowboys. Their foray into filmmaking is being celebrated in the media and debated on television, even though Anwar Congo and his friends are mass murderers. Medan, Indonesia. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands.
The first thing that came to mind was, what exactly is director Joshua Oppenheimer trying to “investigate” about genocide and defense mechanisms, that viewers familiar with the definition of genocide and defense mechanisms don’t already know? That the act of killing is vile, that some extremists are unrepentant sociopaths while others are now regretful, or that the corrupt and evil are still in power in Indonesia today?
Twenty minutes in I could almost see this amateur shock doc running out of steam before relaxing back to the standard formula of trying to supply more jolts, shock and contempt towards Anwar the straw character per minute with each pointed question being asked behind the camera. In one particular re-enactment of the massacre staged in a burning forest as well, choice of composition technique abruptly switches from realistic vérité to subjective theatrics. With that done and repeatedly done, the fact that this “documentary” claims to have brought the truth is a little dishonest. Then again, maybe they were being practical. Why risk it by interviewing genocide victims (illegal in Indonesia) or analysing the implications and effects of this historical event, when simply portraying pompous caricatures of the Pancasila as pompous caricatures of the Pancasila will do?
C-grade shenanigan earning more praise and attention than it deserves… meh.
Only God Forgives
Synopsis: Julian (Ryan Gosling), a respected figure in the criminal underworld of Bangkok, runs a Thai boxing club and smuggling ring with his brother Billy. Billy is suddenly murdered and their crime lord matriarch, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives from London to bring back the body. When Jenna forces Julian to settle the score with his brother’s killers, Julian finds himself in the ultimate showdown.
As I write this entry, I still find myself wondering how many viewers have misplaced their fondness for Only God Forgives simply because the same composer Cliff Martinez, scored Harmony Korine’s visceral neo-noir teen drama, Spring Breakers.
But the most unfortunate aspect of this crime drama, is director Nicolas Winding Refn’s reference of his film, to the genius of Jodorowsky and Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty”. The difference in how hyper violence was used — as a desperate tool to imply macho substance pales in comparison to Artaud’s application of discipline to uphold thematic ideas (anti-bourgeois). In the case of El Topo for example, Jodorowsky expanded both the visual and narrative capabilities of violent cinema by fusing and rewarding it with symbols in religion and mythology. Refn on the other hand, asserts himself only in the literal vacuums of mise-en-scène and unimaginative dialogue. At best I’d call it a literal minded notion of… surrealist drama. At worst, just another anti-revenge flick seeking to exploit and to emulate, yet severely underestimating the real point of Artaud’s pursuit.
I find it terribly unconvincing and pretentious. Can’t decide whether Nicolas Winding Refn was trying to emulate Lars Von Trier or Park Chan-wook but either way, the film is self-indulgent, boring and chock full of clichés.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. I & II
Synopsis: A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac recounts her erotic experiences to the man who saved her after a beating and the continuation of Joe’s sexually dictated life that delves into the darker aspects of her adulthood, obsessions and what led to her being in Seligman’s care.
A sympathy star to the embarrassment that is Lars von Trier for publicity stuntman-ship.
Other films I’ve seen that fall under this category: None
Movie Meter Count: 79