Day Five was not my favorite day of TIFF. Though it started strongly, it ended poorly and had one big huge disappointment smack dab in the middle.
The Act of Killing
Director Joshua Oppenheimer spent four years with several free men who were executioners / gangsters amongst those who perpetrated the mass killing of communist in 1965 Indonesia.
I may be alone here, but I know just about nothing about Indonesian history. And this documentary was not made to give me an exhaustive look at what lead to and what follows these horrific events. However, it aims to take the viewer (and subjects, really) on an astonishing journey that may well leave you with more questions than answer. Questions about the nature of memory. Of Karma. Of empathy, of rationalization, of reparation, of retribution, of silence, of trust, of punishment, of power, and evil, and even of the lasting impact of Hollywood films in the most unlikely places.
It's hard to describe this movie and I think if I tried, I would end up bumbling through thousands of words and still not saying anything meaningful. I hope that many people see it, because I found it moving and as disturbing as any film I've ever seen that shows not one drop of real bloodshed on camera.
It also contained one of the most powerful scenes I've ever seen on film - one shows two admitted killers flippantly re-enacting a past crime scene, as a neighbor and friend of one of them stands in as the victim. Before the camera starts rolling, the neighbor in passing starts to tell a story of which he pretends to downplay the importance, but which in fact is the story of his own stepfather's murder at the hands of men like the ones in the room with him now.
I can hardly write about the scene without feeling tears spring to my eyes. So many layers are stripping away in every one of the players as monumentally complex issues come to light in their own discussion and realization comes over them slowly.
The Act of Killing is more awards-worthy than any other documentary I've seen yet in 2012, except possibly The Invisible War. I really hope it gets recognition and distribution on a wide scale.
At Any Price
This movie was such an intimately, tragically disappointing endeavor that I can't even type more without getting pissed - which is a rare reaction from me since I typically don't mind seeing a bad movie.
Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly are divorced intellectuals, he a novelist and their young adult children fledgling novelists as well in this heartwarming, sweet but not too sweet dramedy that I desperately needed at this stage of the festival. This movie won't change anyone's life but I found no harm in int whatsoever, and I can imagine a general audience being fairly taken with it. In the particular context of this being a first feature, it was even better.
Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder being favorites of mine was really the only reason I sought out this mob hit man biopic. The performances were as good as you'd expect from these two, but the screenplay was unexpectedly devoid of any emotional peaks. The screenwriter whose name I am too lazy to look up right now decided for some reason to leave out almost all details of this guy's traumatic past which would have endeared the audience to him in some way. I'm glad I went, but was ultimately mildly disappointed in what seemed like a missed opportunity for a much better film.