by Evan Williams writing in the Australian
THE central figure in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing is a respected Indonesian citizen named Anwar Congo. He looks dapper and sprightly for his age – he must now be in his 70s – and takes a close interest in his appearance.
Every now and again we see him touching his close-cropped hair with a comb or adjusting his dentures, removing and replacing them as if to check their alignment. He seems oddly proud of those dentures. When we first see him posing for the camera in Oppenheimer’s film he is wearing white trousers and a flashy green sports shirt. Later, watching a replay of the footage, he’s bothered by those trousers, insisting he would never have worn white clothes while working at his job. He’d have worn dark-coloured jeans.
Forty-eight years ago, Anwar’s job was killing people. It was a full-time occupation. As one of the leaders of a paramilitary organisation called Pancasila Youth, he joined many Indonesians in the systematic slaughter of real or supposed communists in the aftermath of a failed coup against General Sukarno’s regime in 1965 that led to General Suharto assuming power. From all the evidence, Anwar enjoyed his work. In an early scene he demonstrates his favourite killing technique: garrotting his victims with wire. Previously it had been his practice to beat them to death but, as he explains with smiling courtesy, this left the killing scene awash with blood and the ineradicable stench of death. Garrotting was faster, cleaner and more efficient.