In Kamila Andini’s Yuni, the eponymous teenager tries to figure out who she is amidst growing patriarchal pressures.
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Kamila Andini’s coming-of-age story, Yuni, follows the eponymous seventeen-year-old Indonesian girl on the cusp of adulthood as she figures out who she wants to be. Having seen friends her age get unhappily married, Yuni (Arawinda Kirana) wants to go to university, but there are strong pressures on her to get married and many suitors calling. Much of Yuni’s life is easily recognizable to western audiences: she hangs out with friends, goes to see a band play, lusts after boys, poses for Instagram, and discovers just how female masturbation works. But the patriarchal norms in her small town are strong; her suitors talk to her parents about the value of Yuni’s virginity, which Yuni only overhears by peeking through closed doors. At the same time, men hold the keys to her education: a male literature teacher stands between her and top grades, and she needs the help of a male student to succeed.
Along the way, Yuni meets several young women who have gone against the grain and paid for it: one who was married in middle school and got divorced and disowned, another who gets caught alone with her boyfriend and had to get married to him. A boy falls for Yuni, and Yuni might have feelings for him. Throughout, the film asks, what is Yuni willing to risk to have control over her life, and will the world she lives in let her get it?
There’s a casualness to how Andini depicts the oppressive forces in Yuni’s life; the walls close in on her out of nowhere. One day, she arrives at school and must listen to an announcement about proposed virginity tests for female students; the next thing she knows, her band practice is being canceled by the Islamic club. One minute, she’s getting a makeover to pose for Instagram photos; the next, the girl who dressed her up is talking about having miscarriages as a thirteen year old. Andini never tips into sentimentality. Things that start out as a joke at the beginning of the film, like Yuni’s obsession with the colour purple, quickly become sinister when you learn it’s the colour of widows. Things take such turns so easily.
Yuni screens digitally across Canada on Thursday, September 16 at 5 pm for a 4-hour window. Tickets are available here.
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