Nicolas Rey, Anders, Molussien (Differently, Molussia), 2012, 16 mm, color, 81 minutes.

JUST A DECADE OLD, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival—more commonly known as CPH:DOX—already occupies a sizable footprint on the European festival landscape. This ambitious, outward-looking event now boasts multiple ancillary initiatives, including a financing forum and a cross-cultural production project, but at its heart is a strong curatorial stance, an idea of documentary film that is at once distinctive and expansive. Fittingly, one of the themed programs for last month’s tenth anniversary edition was titled “Maximalism,” and it stretched to encompass Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, Raya Martin’s psychedelic road trip Buenas noches, España, and an Animal Collective performance. Countering the stodgier impulses of more established documentary venues, the programming has both a hipster bent and a welcome sense of showmanship; even the occasional gimmickry is endearing. Denis Côté’s animal study Bestiaire was shown one afternoon at the Copenhagen Zoo. A double bill of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s immersive, convulsive Leviathan, shot entirely aboard (and off the side of) a fishing trawler two hundred miles off the Massachusetts coast, and David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s Kingdom of Animal, a one-take tour of a Maine fish factory, was followed by a dinner of fish soup (by all accounts delicious).

While Leviathan won the New Vision competition for formally innovative works, the prize in the main competition went to The Act of Killing, one of the most talked-about films at Telluride and Toronto this year, as well as a Danish co-production. Directed by American-born Joshua Oppenheimer with the help of many crew members who remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, the film induces several elderly Indonesian men who slaughtered hundreds during anticommunist purges in the 1960s to relive their crimes (for which they have never been punished and apparently feel no remorse).

It’s a startling gambit, not least because the restagings, with the filmmakers’ help, take the form of movie spectacles by turns kitschy and grisly. Bizarre and boldly sensational, The Act of Killing has already found vocal fans in Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, who promptly signed on as executive producers. Its political significance is not to be underestimated: The film brings to garish light a horrific, still-suppressed chapter of modern Indonesian history, and it says plenty about the way its antiheroes see themselves and rationalize their actions. But some of its implications verge on glibness. The emphasis on violent Hollywood movies as an influence on the massacres, however much the thugs admired Marlon Brando, seems like a flashy red herring (especially given the US government’s actual complicity), and a glimpse into the delusions of a few murderous sociopaths, however vivid, is very far from a truth and reconciliation process. Less exposé than stunt, The Act of Killing builds to an implicit endorsement of its own queasy methods, filmmaker and subject alike affirming the cathartic potential of reenactment.

Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and Anonymous, The Act of Killing, 2012, color, 159 minutes.

My highlight of CPH:DOX was catching up with one of the year’s most resonant political films (and best films, period): Anders, Molussien (Differently, Molussia), the French experimental filmmaker Nicolas Rey’s attempt to adapt an untranslated, posthumously published novel by the German philosopher Günther Anders, set in the total dark of a penal colony in an imaginary fascist state called Molussia. (It was shown as part of a themed program titled “Empire,” riffing on post-Negri/Hardt notions of imperialism and also featuring Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme [2010] and the late Gerhard Friedl’s Farocki-like essay film Wolff von Amerongen: Did He Commit Bankruptcy Offenses? [2004])

Rey’s film has had a healthy festival life, and is effectively a world premiere every time it shows: It’s divided into nine reels, and the order of presentation is selected at random by the projectionist at each screening. (A deck of cards is provided to aid the process; 362,880 permutations exist.) What we hear, in addition to intricate field recordings, are excerpts of the text in German: a Platonic dialogue of sorts between two prisoners about the outside world. What we see are agrarian, industrial, suburban views of today, shot on expired 16-mm stock, at times with a rotating camera. Part dystopian science fiction, part landscape film, Anders, Molussien sustains an endlessly evocative dialectic between sound and image, the past and the present, the real and the fantasized. An essay on the visible and invisible manifestations of power, it’s also a testament to the political uses of imagination (which is also, as it happens, the subject of The Act of Killing, albeit in a grimmer and more literal sense).

Anders, Molussien screened at Copenhagen’s Husets Biograf, a cozy neo-grindhouse that Rey called a “temple to analog.” It’s also a reliable site for strange chance happenings. Last year, a print of Kenneth Anger’s eruptive Lucifer Rising (1972) caught fire midscreening; this year, as Rey answered questions after Anders, Molussien, the lights abruptly went out, plunging the audience into pitch darkness. As the film suggests, Molussia is indeed everywhere.

Dennis Lim

The tenth CPH:DOX ran November 1–11.