Yuni: A story of defiance, bravery and freedom

In TIFF by Chidera Ukairo

Plot Summary:

Kamila Andini’s latest film, Yuni, is a coming-of-age story that follows the life of a teenage Indonesian girl trying to figure out who and what she wants to be. Yuni is an intelligent high-school girl with a loving family, a group of close friends, a rebellious personality and an obsession for the colour purple. Her dream to go to university begins to seem impossible when marriage proposals start pouring in. She quickly becomes the topic on everyone’s lips when she turns down the first proposal from a man she knows nothing about. By the second proposal, her grandmother and her close friends urge her to accept the “blessing” as it’s bad luck to reject a proposal twice in a row. With each passing day, Yuni sees her desires slipping away and does everything in her power to maintain control over her future.


A few words came to my mind while watching this film: powerful, recognizable, and relatable. It was easy to recognize and relate to the simple and almost mundane parts of Yuni’s everyday life. She goes to school, spends a lot of time with her friends, gets in trouble for fighting, has crushes, takes photos for Instagram, and goes to see a band live. 

Accurately laced through Yuni’s teenage life were also the relatable effects of living in a patriarchal society. A friend of Yuni’s has no choice but to marry her boyfriend after people catch them alone and accuse them of having sex. Some of the men who come to Yuni’s grandmother to seek her hand in marriage discuss the value of her virginity. At school, a male teacher stands in the way of her achieving top grades and in order to be eligible for a scholarship, Yuni has to remain unmarried; a sinister requirement for a society that sees marriage as the most important thing a woman should strive to achieve.

Andini brought this world of competing realities to life in a casual and perfectly balanced way. The looming gender constraints on Yuni seamlessly interact with the carefree, emotional parts of her life. In one scene where she’s hanging out with her friends, the conversation takes a serious tone when they begin talking about a classmate who is pregnant without a husband and ends with giggles as they contemplate whether it is even possible for women to masturbate. The calmness that surrounds the chaotic nature of Yuni’s life, a life that is not entirely up to her, is worrying especially when I consider how normal it all felt to see it on screen. 

What makes this a powerful film is that it is also a tale of freedom and how alienating seeking it can be. While Yuni was getting her makeup done at a salon for Instagram photos, the makeup artist, an entrepreneur who owned the salon, recounted the story of how her parents disowned her because she went against their wishes and divorced her abusive husband. What I enjoyed seeing was her evident freedom and lightness. I could tell a huge weight no longer existed in her life. She walked with a carefree stride and had no regrets. Yuni’s own decision to reject a proposal was an ultimate display of courage. Arawinda Kirana’s performance as Yuni made it easy to see how making those decisions made our heroine feel alone, alienated from her community. 

Andini’s writing and direction ensure the film never goes in the direction of being idealistic. I never felt like I was watching a mushy film. It’s real and raw and one I would recommend to anyone looking to watch a film that doesn’t mince words.