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“The Act of Killing is a headache,” spat out Anwar Kongo, the lead actor in the film of that name. Anwar claimed he was much sought after by local and foreign journalists since the film’s release.
The 72-year-old had not expected the movie in which he was cast would make him an overnight celebrity. Since the screening of the 149-minute film in the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8, his cell phone has been ringing almost daily, with requests for interviews.
Anwar said he was happy to speak to reporters but he had been forced to limit his meetings with media people as he was exhausted by the dozens of callers every day.
“I’m happy but also too fatigued to deal with them,” complained Anwar, indicating that the journalists had mostly inquired about his role in the mass killing of members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) portrayed in The Act of Killing.
According to Anwar, he was at a loss when asked about the film for the first time because he had no knowledge of it and had never seen it either. “I’ve never seen The Act of Killing,” he stressed when visited in the office of the North Sumatra chapter of the Pemuda Pancasila youth organization on Jl. Thamrin, Medan.
Anwar, who is still a member of Pemuda Pancasila, revealed he had only acted in a movie called Arsan dan Aminah (Arsan and Aminah), which was directed by an American named Joshua Lincoln Oppenheimer.
This film was a love story about a young couple of different ideologies. Arsan, played by Anwar, falls in love with Aminah, a PKI member’s daughter. They were absorbed in their romance during the period of intense ideological conflict between the Indonesian government and the PKI.
Anwar agreed that apart from the romance the film, shot entirely in North Sumatra, also portrayed the slaying of PKI followers. One of the figures in the picture presented as a killer of PKI members is Arsan.
Arsan’s role in the movie, said Anwar, corresponded to what he had done during the operation to eliminate the PKI. “At the time, Pemuda Pancasila youths and I joined the anti-PKI drive because the PKI was our common enemy,” said Anwar, who as a youth was known as a gang member and a skilled boxer.
Aside from boxing, Anwar used to go to the movies as a hobby. He liked cowboy films mostly back in the 1960s. Against this background, he was immediately interested when Oppenheimer an American director offered him a role in the story about the wipe out of the PKI in North Sumatra. Anwar was even named the leading character.
“It was my first picture. I was nervous at first but eventually I became accustomed to acting,” recalled Anwar, while again referring to the film by its original title, Arsan dan Aminah.
Later, Anwar, who dropped out of Medan’s Taman Siswa primary school after fourth grade, was surprised to find that his Arsan dan Aminah had reportedly been renamed The Act of Killing by Oppenheimer.
“Joshua has never contacted me about changing Arsan dan Aminah to The Act of Killing. Frankly, I found out about it only recently, after the film had already been shown in the Toronto Film Festival,” said Anwar with irritation, smoking a clove cigarette. The tall and slim man pointed out that he and Oppenheimer had agreed not to widely publicize the film, because in the beginning it had only been intended as part of the latter’s thesis.
“This semi-documentary was made for Oppenheimer, who was going to finish his doctorate program. That’s why I was prepared to assume a leading role,” said Anwar, who believes he has been deceived by Joshua.
Despite his anxiety and lack of sleep lately, Anwar said he was resigned to what had happened to the film. “Let the public judge it. But I’ve been unlucky as my first film has made me uneasy. The fee I got wasn’t that big either,” he said, shaking his head repeatedly.
One of the reasons for Anwar’s worry is the movie featuring him has been globally publicized under a grisly title. Nonetheless, he claimed he wasn’t afraid of any response by the world to the film, particularly by the International Tribunal, for the portrayal of PKI members’ mass murder. “I’m a victim of the director’s deception, so why should I be scared?” he asked.