I think I can safely say that I’ve never seen anything like this before. Joshua Oppenheimer creates a morbid and slightly exploitative documentary using former death squad leaders as directors and actors. The film was an abstract attempt to recount the atrocities that occurred in Indonesia back in 1965 when there was a coup upon the president of Jakarta, President Sukarno. This event is known at 30 September Movement and through the genres of their choice each actor who participated in the killings was able to recreate what took place. The movie focuses primarily on Anwar Congo and his friends who were promoted from illegal traders of movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders.
Their fiction filmmaking process provides the film’s dramatic arc, and on the film sets the filmmaker could safely challenge them about what they did, without fear of being arrested or beaten up, while for the protagonists they were seemingly safe spaces to explore their deepest memories and feelings (as well as their blackest humor). Some of Anwar’s friends realize that the killings were wrong. Others worry about the consequence of the story on their public image. Younger members of Pemuda Pancasila argue that they should boast about the horror of the massacres, because their terrifying and threatening force is the basis of their power today. As opinions diverge, the atmosphere on set grows tense. The edifice of genocide as a “patriotic struggle”, with Anwar and his friends as its heroes, begins to sway and crack.