The Look of Silence shows at Northwest Film Forum through Thursday, August 13, 2015.
The Look of Silence shows at Northwest Film Forum through Thursday, August 13, 2015.

The “look of silence” in the film of the same name arguably occurs at the end, when the credits roll and every other crew member is listed as “Anonymous.” The absence of identifiable production staff pretty much sums up what silence looks like—fear.

In 1965, nearly one million accused communists were executed in Muslim-majority Indonesia. The Look of Silence, a documentary (with film luminaries Errol Flynn and Herzog Werner as producers), tackles a taboo subject that many fear speaking about. They live, today, among the people who murdered their families, friends, and neighbors. Yet, chillingly, the executioners have no such trepidation about their cold-blooded killings because they perceive them as their duty. With no sense of guilt or remorse, they playfully demonstrate how they gouged out eyes and even drank the blood of their victims. Giddy with power, they smirk at how the dead were heinously massacred with their entrails exposed and their penises severed.

Adi is a 44-year-old optometrist born after leaders of the death squad killed his brother at Snake River. Ironically, he fits the murderers with eyeglasses enabling them to see clearer. At the same time, he quietly encourages them to look back at their complicity in his brother’s slaying. Fifty years later, Adi’s mother still grieves. Yet, she remains defiant in spite of having to live among those responsible for her eldest child’s death. However, Adi’s father is a shell of man. Barely able to sit up, he requires his wife’s assistance with feeding, bathing and toileting. In school, Adi’s teary-eyed son is taught that communists are cruel despite the fact they were the ones that were hunted and killed.

Meanwhile, theories abound about the cause of the extermination of so many people and, often, entire families. Whether it was a multinational company like Good Year protecting its interests against communist-backed labor unions, or the power-hungry military, the results were the same. Although the Indonesian army sanctioned the massacre, they remained in the background watching what they referred to as “the people’s struggle.”

“America taught us to hate communists,” says one assassin.

Beautiful cinematography provides the background for the hideous words uttered by the executioners. Adi, his expressive eyes reflecting deep pain, is warned that too much questioning could lead to a repeat of history. Time after time, he’s cautioned about venturing into “politics.” When he asks a murderer whether the prophet Muhammad was against killing, the man agrees but adds, “You can kill your enemies.”

Unfortunately, war is used to settle differences all over the world. In “Northern Limit Line,” a border dispute leads to a skirmish that took place during the FIFA World Cup in 2002 as South Korea competed against Turkey. On that fateful day, North Korea sent two of its patrol boats to a contentious area in the Yellow Sea. There, it launched a surprise attack on the South Korean Battleship 357. Known as the Battle of Yeonpyeong, the assault resulted in the deaths of numerous men on both sides.

While the South claims the borderline is farther north, the North claims the borderline is farther South. Often, fishing vessels from North Korea enter the area and are pursued; sometimes, accused of harboring spies.

Based on a true story, this film follows several of the South Korean sailors involved in the 2002 altercation. Their private lives are shared onscreen, up-close and personal. As they spend time on the boat crammed together, they endure midnight drills, eat contraband noodles, play jokes on each other and even pull rank. On shore, they’re seen spending time with their families and doting on their children.

As a new recruit, Corporal Park Dong-hyuk (Lee Hyun-woo) is challenged by another, more experienced sailor who taunts him by reading out loud his very private letters. A medic, Dong-hyuk is a little squeamish and faces an initiation not unlike a college fraternity pledge. But his sensitivity and earnestness makes the others warm up to him.

With so much camaraderie displayed among the men, the graphic battle scenes are difficult to watch, especially because at the end of film, real-life footage of the funerals of the deceased is shown.

War is not always the perpetrator when it comes to exploiting certain citizens. In the film Cotton Road, the culprit is globalization. Here, a different type of war is fought: one that pits the working poor against consumerism.

Americans purchase 20 billion items of new clothing annually, yet most have no clue about the journey their clothes make from struggling crop farmers to overworked seamstresses to their closets. This documentary takes the viewer from cotton fields, where farmers lament being at the mercy of weather, insects, and the financial crisis, to windowless factories in China where young women bend over sewing machines seven days a week. In between, the meticulously crafted film shows how cotton is processed, bought, sold and shipped—a chain of co-dependent events that result in cheap clothes being available on the racks of shops at American malls.

Although most of the movie is instructive, scenes of sweet-faced Chinese girls, most in their early 20s, working overtime in hopes they earn enough by year’s end to go home are the most gut-wrenching. Forced into city jobs in dark factories, hunched over needles and textiles, the girls from rural areas are as young as 16. When one of them says matter-of-factly, “All of us have hard lives,” the weariness in her voice is heart-rending.

The statistical information presented is overwhelming—the United States throws out 68 pounds of clothes per person each year. Even when the clothing is donated to charity, only 20% is purchased. The cycle is then completed when the clothing is bundled and sold in bulk to developing nations—coming full circle from cotton seedlings to discarded apparel.

‘The Look of Silence,’ opened August 7 at Northwest Film Forum. For showtimes, click here. ‘Northern Limit Line,’ opened July 17, Alderwood Mall. For more info, click here. ‘Cotton Road,’ screened on July 28 at Northwest Film Forum.

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