Foreign Films in Focus

Oscars: Gay Drama 'Memories of My Body' Faced Bans Before Being Chosen as Indonesia's Entry

Courtesy of Venice Film Festival
'Memories of My Body'

Inspired by the real life of famed Indonesian dancer Rianto, Garin Nugroho's film follows an abandoned young boy as he searches for a sense of identity.

Indonesian director Garin Nugroho knew he was courting controversy from the moment he started work on the script for Memories of My Body. What he hadn't counted on was that the passions his film stirred would follow him wherever he went.

"I thought there would be some noise but it might go away," says Nugroho. "Now it seems I just can't escape."

Inspired by the real life of famed Indonesian dancer Rianto, Memories of My Body follows an abandoned young boy as he searches for a sense of identity, alone at first and later as part of a dance troupe that allows him the freedom to express himself artistically — and sexually. There's a poignancy arrived at through the fact that Rianto — who, as a gay man in Indonesia, faced such struggles in real life — provides narration and appears as himself late in the film.

Following its April release, the pic faced bans and online backlash in the ultraconservative Muslim country. One city administration accused it of promoting "deviant sexual acts and blasphemy."

There has also been praise, however, from within the country and from international critics who caught the film as it traveled the fest circuit (The Hollywood Reporter's Clarence Tsui called it a "moving piece of physical and political drama"). Given all the controversy, it came as a major surprise to Nugroho when, in September, the Indonesian Film Selection Committee chose Memories of My Body as the country's official submission for consideration in the international feature film Oscar category.

"This is a very good sign for cinema in Indonesia," says the 58-year-old Nugroho. "The content of the film is in the middle of society, the middle of our reality. People can relate to this story, unless their views are extreme, and I don't think we can ever give in to extreme ways of thinking."

Memories of My Body — backed by Fourcolours Films and Go-Studio — had its premiere at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival, picking up the prize for best film in the Horizon section, before it was handed the 2018 Asia Pacific Screen Awards Cultural Diversity Award.

"The film has faced opposition, but I think we have also seen positive signs for freedom of expression and positive support from around the world," says Nugroho. "The negative forces that you face are simply the consequences you face as an artist."

This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.