Cast: Muhammad Khan, Raditya Evandra, Rianto, Sujiwo Tejo
Official Selection, 2018 Venice Film Festival
Flipping the conventions of the biopic, MEMORIES OF MY BODY begins with its real-life subject looking straight at the camera, his bulging eyes sensing our anticipation. He is Rianto, a Javanese dancer, and he wants you to feel in your bones the ecstatic movements of his limbs and hips. This is the story of his body as a vessel for tradition and pleasure. As we witness his upbringing from village boy to young adult, we find that his body is a vessel for self-discovery as well. He’s enchanted by the lengger performers, men who dance the roles of women, and is soon himself careening to the music after being recruited by the local dance troupe. With Suharto’s crackdown on artists playing out in the background, his body will flee from village to village, encountering violence and suspicion, and somehow, love.
While the threat of violence looms, the body continues to throb with desirous expression. The lengger of MEMORIES OF MY BODY is no fossilized tradition. It’s a libidinous, breathtaking dance of quick leaps and wavelike pulsations. It has a magnetism that spreads from the performances into Rianto’s onscreen narration and director Garin Nugroho’s sensuous docudrama, giving the film less the expository airs of a biopic and more the wondrous romance of a ghost legend. Cracking verbal and corporeal double entendres and swaying with the punch-drunk love of a Queen-era ballad, Nugroho’s film remembers the body, but also remembers through the body, the personal and national histories of trauma and survival. –Brian Hu