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By George Po Chun Huang

Following Transamerica (2005), there is another film about a father becoming a woman— Lovely Man (2012). Being set in Indonesia, religion takes a central role in the film, just like Venus (2017). The difference is that the plot of Lovely Man takes place during one night only.

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Teenage girl Cahaya goes to Jakarta to look for his father, gone for more than 15 years. However, she finds only a transsexual sex worker named Ipuy importunating on the streets. Anxious and worried, Ipuy does not know how to face her daughter Cahaya and Cahaya does not know what to make of her father’s job and appearance. Yet, she does not mind that her father has gone this way. They seem to be able to fix the broken relationship in one night. However, Cahaya’s visit has a secret motive, and Ipuy also has a dream about to come true. The night quickly becomes dangerous.


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Pious, dressed in traditional Islamic clothes, Cahaya offers a strong contrast to her father, Ipuy, a transsexual sex worker. The relationship between them, however, shows unity. In a conservative country like Indonesia, the calmness Capuya shows when she learns that Ipuy is her father proves that young people are becoming more open-minded towards issues regarding gender and sexuality.


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Whether Ipuy’s staying with her is just to hide from the creditors chasing her or to just enjoy time with her daughter, this encounter has certainly changed her life. She has always felt guilty for leaving her family behind and focusing only on pursuing her own goals. This has caused Cahaya much pain, but also provides another way out.


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Donny Damara, who received a Best Actor and People’s Choice Award for Favorite Actor at the Asian Film Awards 2012, demonstrates how transsexual people are being forced to live a dim life. With a masculine look but feminine character, he perfectly conveyed the overwhelming sensation of reuniting with your daughter after several years. Director’s daughter Raihaanun is also able to highlight this sense of longing from the lost daughter. These two persons have managed to turn this unusual father-daughter relationship into a touching and universal connection. 


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The film was written and directed by Teddy Soeriaatmadja, who made his way out of the conservative atmosphere with this brilliant work that breaks the boundaries between gender and religion. Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” (“Moonlight”) plays twice in the film, indicating that the characters are looking for their peace of mind and out of constant conflicts, expressing the sad and the elegance behind the story, and echoing the classic transsexual film All About My Mother (1999).

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