Inspired by real-life dancer Rianto, Memories of My Body follows the formative years of Javanese boy Juno through four periods of his life.
It’s a gritty, slow-moving drama that evolves into a satisfying and heartfelt glimpse into the cultural and political landscapes of the nation.
Rianto narrates the story, returning to the screen between each chapter with poetic prose and movement pieces that border on pretension and does little justice to the fascinating main story that unfolds.
Orphaned Juno (Raditya Evandra) is taken in by a Lengger dance troupe after he is deserted by his father. Lengger is a traditional dance where men take on female roles. There, he begins exploring his body through movement and starts his sexual awakening under the inappropriate teachings of the troupe leader who uses his own wife as his teaching tool.
Running away, Juno finds a home in another village where he finds himself the focus of his dance teacher’s desires, a path leading to an indiscretion that brings punishment to her and forces Juno to flee again.
The third chapter sees Juno (Muhammad Khan) older and working for a tailor where he meets and falls for a handsome boxer (Randy Pangalila) struggling to be the man he is expected to be. Through him, Juno begins to understand the balance and power of both masculinity and femininity, most notably displayed in a beautifully executed sparring scene where Juno dances around the blindfolded boxer who attempts to hone his fighting skills by sensing and predicting Juno’s movements.
By the final chapter, Juno has come to accept and understand himself, embracing the Lengger dance and his own sensuality. He finds solace in the arms of an older lover while facing the consequences of spurning the advances of a powerful politician (Teuku Rifnu Wikana). It’s here we get the greatest sense of hope and a clearer picture of the conservative political landscape which secretly embraces but openly rejects the Lengger dance.
Juno is named after a warrior prince from the Maharabhata and the film subtly depicts Juno’s journey from a frightened boy to a confident man. Despite being forced to flee at the end of each chapter, his inner strength grows as he learns to understand himself and the world he lives in.
Memories of My Body is not a film for everyone but is a beautifully shot film, lovingly handled by director Garin Nugroho who takes us on a very real and revealing journey into self-acceptance despite the odds.
Memories of My Body screens again for the Adelaide Film Festival this coming Saturday, 20 October at 5pm at the Mercury Cinema in the city.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
The Adelaide Film Festival is running until 21 October. The full program is available from their website.