The Movie Waffler Glasgow Film Festival 2022 Review - YUNI | The Movie Waffler

Glasgow Film Festival 2022 Review - YUNI

yuni review
A teenage girl's ambitions are thrown in doubt when she receives several marriage proposals.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kamila Andini

Starring: Arawinda Kirana, Kevin Ardilova, Dimas Aditya, Neneng Risma, Vania Aurell

yuni poster

Writer/director Kamila Andini's Yuni boasts a mood swing befitting its teenage protagonist. It begins like an Indonesian cousin of your average American teen comedy, detailing the ups and downs of a teenage girl's life as she negotiates romance and aspirations while struggling to get through school. But in its second half it takes a turn as it depressingly reminds us that the chauvinistic society of Indonesia isn't exactly the best part of the world for a woman to come of age if her hopes and dreams extend beyond finding a husband.

yuni review

Andini's smartest piece of filmmaking comes right at the start of her film. Her camera watches as 16-year-old Yuni (Arawinda Kirana) gets dressed for school. The colourful underwear she dons could be that of a teen in Paris, London or New York, but when she covers herself in a hijab we're reminded that teenage girls in this part of the world are essentially living two lives – one for their parents and one for themselves. Of course, that's the way of teenagers everywhere, but Yuni has the added burden of a state increasingly turning to rigid Islamic rules. With a pupil having become pregnant, Yuni's school is on the verge of forcing its female students to take virginity tests, and the Islamic authorities have banned the teaching of music.

yuni review

A smart cookie, Yuni sees a way out through gaining a place in college. This has two requirements: she'll have to perform very well in school and she'll have to avoid getting married. To achieve the former she enlists the aid of Yoga (Kevin Ardilova), a shy younger boy with a knack for poetry and a long unspoken crush on Yuni. This leads to something of a twist on the Cyrano de Bergerac set-up, as Yoga finds himself writing poems that express his feelings for Yuni, who ironically passes them off as her own words in the hopes of getting a high enough grade and impressing the teacher she herself has a crush on (Dimas Aditya).

Avoiding getting married is a little trickier. As pretty as she is smart, Yuni attracts her share of suitors, most of them old enough to be her father, though some are young and handsome enough to draw jealousy from her classmates.

yuni review

These two subplots have very different stakes, and as such they make for uncomfortable bedfellows. Half the movie is a rather generic if charming teen romantic comedy while the other half is a gloomy reminder of how religion still oppresses women in 2022. Kirana is very good at pulling off both these moods, but the film she's in struggles to find the right balance. It reaches a point where the potential for comedy has been erased and we're left with a final act that forces us to coldly watch a young woman beaten down by the society she longs to escape. It's a case of preaching to the choir, as anyone who watches a movie like Yuni is already on the movie's side when it comes to its gender politics and condemnation of religion. Had Andini balanced her message more evenly with her film's comic elements, she may have reached a more mainstream audience that needs to learn of the pain of girls like Yuni.

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