Southeast Asian cinema remains one of the most underrated regions when it comes to world cinema, but as more films begin to gain traction on the international film festival circuits , maybe winds of change are coming. One of the most recent films titled yuni, originally from Indonesia, has made his mark. Director Kamila Andini, in her third feature as a director, with co-writer Prima Rusdi, joined their producer (Andini’s husband) to lay the groundwork for yuniin 2017. Four years later, in 2021, the film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.
At TIFF, the film won the platform award. It then progressed to film festivals in Busan, Philadelphia and more, before landing Indonesia’s entry spot for the Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film. Ultimately, the film did not receive final review, but Andini’s recent successes as a filmmaker hold tremendous promise for Indonesian and South Asian cinema. yuniThe lead actress, who gives a nuanced performance as troubled teenager Yuni, is Arawinda Kiranda. This is his first lead role in a feature film. The film was released in Indonesia in December 2021 but continues to tour the world. There is a particular sense of timeliness with this film as women’s rights, particularly in relation to reproduction and birth control, have become a hot topic in the Western Hemisphere.
Teenage girl clings to her independence
The film’s main character, Yuni, seems to have it all when the camera first focuses on her. She’s in high school and thriving socially and academically, and if she wanted to date someone, it seems there are quite a few boys interested in Yuni. However, with the film’s opening shots, that expectation is subtly reversed as Yuni slowly undresses in her bedroom, the camera lingering slightly off to the side to allow her some privacy. That simple moment, the changing of the guard is a brief flash of vulnerability and intimacy that establishes that she is more than her superficial outward appearance. It also provides the context that she is no longer a young child and is stuck in the transition phase from childhood to adulthood.
One day, as Yuni and her classmates walk to school, the president of the Islamic club and an older teacher stand in front of the students for a meeting. They announce that to combat the sin of sex before marriage, the school will now perform mandatory virginity tests on female students. As these students, protagonists of their own coming-of-age stories at this time in their lives, grapple with the impacts of their budding crushes morphing into something more, the Islamic club is also banning activities like singing and playing instruments. These two juxtaposed notions set the backdrop yuniwhich tackles the specific coming-of-age story of Yuni in modern Indonesia.
With her friends, they talk about the boys and check their Instagram accounts after school, laughing at their crushes and doing their makeup between classes. A teacher, after scolding Yuni for taking her classmate’s hair tie, even asks her about her plans for college – if she has any. He has a sense of normality, a familiar routine of youth. However, things start to change drastically for her when she comes home one day to find she has a marriage proposal. All of Yuni’s plans, if she had any that were truly hers, begin to crumble with this, and she declines the proposal, only for it to lead to a series of consequences that mark the start of a chapter of his life.
This departure is accelerated by forced belief systems and the society that ends up consuming Yuni. She finds her fleeting moments of freedom with the divorced woman who owns a hair salon, goes to the club while bringing the boy Yuni really likes with her. Yet when Yuni returns to her traditional grandmother, she confronts the ideologies of the society she was born into and eventually succumbs to the pressure placed on her. These tense moments, as Yuni grows angrier and more frustrated with the circumstances around her, are relieved by Yuni spending time with her best friends and talking about their boyfriends, sex, and the other girls in their year who become pregnant and thus isolate themselves. in the school setting.
Yuni’s age is not specified until the end of the film: she is sixteen, almost seventeen. Some of the most beautiful scenes in the film are when she is allowed to exist in her age bracket, without having to worry about getting married. She may think about getting a scholarship and going to college, defying expectations that one of her friends ends up dropping out. People talk when she refuses the proposals, winking at her in passing, but she holds her ground until it all starts to spiral out of her control. These scenes are tender, evoking sensations and feelings that transcend borders and cultural differences. And that’s the magic behind movies like yuni.
A portrait of a young girl
yuni is based on the performance of its lead actress, Arawinda Kirana. It’s her acting debut, but it doesn’t seem like it for the duration of the film. The camera is constantly on Yuni as a character, even when she pivots to another character’s perspective, such as her classmate who has a crush on her. But as strong as she tries to appear on the surface, Yuni is still a teenager trying to navigate a patriarchal society as a young woman. She tries to stay the course and maintain some semblance of control by stealing purple things from everyone around her. Whether it’s hair ties, notebooks or pencils, and no matter how many times Yuni is reprimanded for this behavior, she continues to do so. Her life as she knows it is constantly changing, with men making offers to her, but this small action gives her the stability to mentally keep it all together.
Her parents are absent from her life, as they work in Jakarta, and she lives with her grandmother. Yuni shows she’s smart behind the brow she puts on by complaining about literature homework, but, at the same time, as she lies in the grass with her friends, gossiping about a classmate who is now pregnant , she is still a girl at the dawn of adulthood. She searches the internet for the things she was never allowed to learn in class and, in the background, the television talks about how virginity testing in schools has been deemed illegal. Listening to the conversations with the adults in her life, Yuni realizes that girls in her situation, in the socio-economic position and the region in which she was born, find no way to really get an education as she wants. .
She gets a glimpse of this filtered world she dreams of through the older woman she hangs out with, goes to clubs and discusses how the woman’s marriage ended in divorce and everyone has says she was lying when she admitted he beat her. The older woman serves as a foil for Yuni in an equally subtle way: while Yuni is angry at the world and the life she seems to have been forced into, this woman provides the perfect outlet and representation as someone one who did. But, at the same time, some sacrifices have been made to get there. The woman’s family accuses her of being the source of the problem when it comes to her failed marriage, and there are bridges burned because of it. She still manages to live a carefree life despite this, choosing to come out of her wounds and make the best of the situation fate has given her.
Some may think that the lack of female directors is only a problem in contemporary Hollywood, but it is a global problem. A certain level of authenticity when it comes to portraying the lives of young women, girls, and the female experience as a whole has always been lacking in the history of cinema as a whole. It’s because of the lack of female directors and storytellers in the writer’s bedroom. What’s Incredible yuni as a film is that it refuses to blame anyone, bringing a different kind of compassion to the table, but perhaps if more female filmmakers had equal access to resources and funding, the world would see more.
yuni was screened as part of the 2022 Asian-American International Film Festival.