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 film 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 in the Oscars' international feature film 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 Venice in 2018, 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.
The 2006 Oscars will forever be remembered as the infamous ceremony where “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture. Ang Lee’s groundbreaking gay romance was the critical favorite and it won three of the eight Oscars it was nominated for that year: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Headlining actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both earned Oscar nominations for their performances. The actors were asked to present during the 2007 Oscars telecast, but Gyllenhaal revealed in a recent interview with Another Man magazine via NME that Ledger turned down the opportunity because it would mean making jokes at the expense of the gay “Brokeback” love story.
“I mean, I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about it,” Gyllenhaal said. “And Heath refused. I was sort of at the time, 'Oh, okay... whatever.' I'm always like, ‘It's all in good fun.’ And Heath said, 'It's not a joke to me — I don't want to make any jokes about it.’”
Gyllenhaal, “That's the thing I loved about Heath. He would never joke. Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like, 'No. This is about love. Like, that's it, man. Like, no.'”
Ledger was nominated in the Best Actor category but lost to “Capote” star Philip Seymour Hoffman. Gyllenhaal lost to George Clooney in “Syriana” for Best Supporting Actor. “Brokeback Mountain” marked the first Oscar nominations for both actors. Ledger would go on to be nominated and win his Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor race for his role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Ledger received the Academy Award posthumously. “Brokeback” remains Gyllenhaal’s sole Oscar nomination to date.
Gyllenhaal has previously spoken about Ledger’s disdain for “Brokeback Mountain” jokes, but this is the first time the actor has revealed his late co-star turned down the Oscars. Gyllenhaal told “Today” in July 2019 that “Brokeback” marked a pivotal moment in his career. “It opened tons of doors,” he said. “It was crazy. It was amazing. It's defined my career in different ways. [But the film] is bigger than me...It has become not ours anymore. It's the world's.”
Read Gyllenhaal’s latest interview in its entirety on the Another Man website.