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Indonesia Selects Controversial ‘Memories of My Body’ as Oscar Contender

Memories of My Body,” directed by Garin Nugroho, has been selected to represent Indonesia at the Academy Awards in the international feature film category (previously best foreign-language film). The announcement was made Tuesday by actress Christine Hakim representing the Indonesian Film Selection Committee.

The fact-based film depicts the story of a young man from a dance troupe that performs Lengger Lanang, a folk dance from central Java usually performed in pairs, with men often taking both male and female roles. It is based on the real story of Rianto, a dancer who was abused as a child, explored masculinity and femininity while growing up, and endured traumatic experiences, discrimination and violence. Rianto himself plays the dancer as an adult and narrates the film.

It has proved deeply controversial with Islamic religious groups, which labeled it “deviant” and “promoting LGBT values.” It was banned in five provinces.

Despite that stigma, the selection committee said its decision was unanimous and praised the film, also known as “Kucumbu Tubuh Indakhu,” for its depiction of emotions. “It is out of the ordinary,” said Hakim. “Idioms in Indonesia are abundant, and the film introduced our rich culture, along with its strong message.”

Memories of My Body” premiered last year in the Venice Film Festival’s Horizon section, where it won the prize for best film, and was nominated for the Queer Lion prize. Its awards also include the Montgolfiere d’Or Award for best film at the Festival des 3 Continents in France and the Cultural Diversity Award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. In partnership with the APSAs, “Memories of My Body” was also screened for UNESCO in Paris, in December.

Nugroho is one of Indonesia’s best-known art-house directors, and “Memories” is his second film to be selected to represent the country, after his 1998 title “Leaf on a Pillow.” Indonesia has selected films for Oscars contention most years since 1987. None has received a nomination.

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