Kamila Andini’s Indonesian feature wins the coveted Platform prize at Tiff 2021
Dir: Kamila Andini. Indonesia/Singapore/France/Australia. 2021. 95 mins
Indonesian director Kamila Andini (2017’s The Seen And Unseen) brings a light, lyrical touch to some hefty issues in Yuni. The tale of a teenage girl at the mercy of society’s expectations and deep-rooted superstitions feels both specific and universal in its concerns, and audiences will readily identify with a central character facing age-old dilemmas in a modern context. Winning the Platform prize at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival should only elevate the prospects for Yuni with festival programmers and arthouse distributors.
A touching, sharp-eyed tale that unfolds with a real generosity of spirit
Yuni (Kirana) is a young woman whose life is poised on the cusp of exciting possibilities. She lives in Serang with her grandmother whilst her parents work in Jakarta. A conscientous student at school, she may have the opportunity to further her education in college. Yuni has a passion for all things purple that stretches from jotters and underwear to hairbands and the shade of the motorbike that she rides to school. We later learn that purple is considered “the colour of the widow”. She is full of curiosity about everything around her, but there are already telling signs of how that world may shrink rather than expand. At school, an Islamic Club has banned musical activities and there is a proposal to introduce mandatory virginity tests for all female students. This still feels like a society in which nothing becomes a teenage girl more than a favourable marriage.
Arawinda Kirana plays Yuni with a serenity and spirit that makes us believe she can weather all storms and reach decisions that will work for her. Andini and co-writer Prima Rusdi paint Yuni as a girl who might have walked from the pages of Jane Austen or shared a sisterhood with the family in Little Women. She is interested in boys, has a crush on her teacher Mr. Damar (Dimas Aditya) and shares gossip and giggles with her pals. We are aware of her naivety as they all discuss sex - how little they know and how much they have to discover. Talk of masturbation prompts the question: “Isn’t that just for boys?”
Yuni already has a secret admirer in the bashful Yoga. Kevin Ardilova is sweetly endearing in the part, conveying all the tongue-tied, lovestruck shyness of a young man who cannot dare to dream that his feelings might be reciprocated. The relationship between Yuni and Yoga has the spirit of something Shakespearean (As You Like It perhaps) with an echo of Cyrano De Bergerac. Love and romance are threaded through the film, especially when Yuni is given an assignment on the groundbreaking work of Indonesian poet Sapardi Djoko Damono. He died in 2020 and the film is dedicated to his memory.
Andini keeps the souffle airy but always undercuts the lightness with a serious point. Friends and acquaintances surround Yuni with a ribbon of cautionary tales on marriages that didn’t work, domestic violence and the stigma of pregnancy among unmarried girls. Inevitably, Yuni starts to receive marriage proposals, some financially tempting. There is an expectation that she should consider this a blessing. There is a superstition that refusing more than two will only result in misery.
How Yuni tries to discover what she wants and how she can achieve it becomes the basis of a touching, sharp-eyed tale that unfolds with a real generosity of spirit. Andini takes the risk of making Yuni seem unsympathetic in the way she cynically uses Yoga and there is an understanding by the conclusion that this is a society that doesn’t work too well for some men either.
Production companies: Fourcolours Films, Akanga Film Asia, Manny Films
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Producer: Ifa Isfansyah
Screenplay: Kamila Andini, Prima Rusdi
Cinematograpy: Teoh Gay Hian
Editing: Lee Chatametikool
Productiion design: Budi Riyanto Karung
Music: Alexis Rault
Main cast: Arawinda Kirana, Kevin Ardilova, Dimas Aditya, Marissa Anita