This film is absolutely gorgeous. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
I was so angry watching this film. Yuni is about a schoolgirl who has to decide between pursuing her education and getting married. Literally 3 adult men want to marry this 16-year-old schoolgirl. Like, what the fuck?! She’s a wean! But it would be wrong to put this all on the individual guys, because the whole school system is rigged against girls continuing their education. A nice teacher, Mrs Lis, tries to encourage Yuni to go to uni, since she excels at maths and science. But even the brochures for scholarships have the proviso that she will be ineligible if she marries.
On the other hand, it seems like the clock’s ticking on marriage as soon as a girl hits puberty. And not like, from other boys her age who fancy her, but from adult men, who for some reason see a wee lassie in her school uniform and think, she’s clearly ready for a lifelong commitment to a vastly older man. Gross, and shame on you, and also fuck you!
Anyway, putting a pin in the rage-inducing aspects of the story, Yuni is actually a really well-balanced, nuanced story about growing up. For all the struggle and strife, so much of it is joyful, full of the bonds of friendship, and the fun of being 16. Yuni and her pals go swimming, paint their nails, do their makeup and pose for selfies. They gossip about boys they like, which teachers they might have a crush on, and what they’ve heard about S-E-X. All the usual, normal, adorable things about being a young teenager.
And Yuni kinda blasts apart the silence of propriety that kinda hangs over these subjects in her community. It shows the girls whispering about sex, a subject they know almost nothing about, except as something with the potential to destroy their life, educationally, socially, familially. The scene is so universal, with them asking, does it hurt? Do you bleed? Do you have an orgasm, and how? All the while, half-scandalised themselves at the topic.
And in 2020, there is this weird disconnect from the irl life of modesty and unspoken-of subjects, and the online life where you can just google “female masturbation” and get thousands of explicit answers. Like, if someone was to find Yuni’s phone, they would have a totally different idea of who she was as a person, than the naive virgin she actually is.
To go back a bit to anger-inducing aspects, it is infuriating how much it seems to be everybody’s business whether you choose to fuck or not, or even if you’re thinking about it. The school proposes at one point introducing mandatory virginity tests for the girls, a bullshit impossibility that just seems like a scam to look up young girls’ knickers. This is so the school can ‘protect’ its reputation from pregnant unwed mothers and lassies who try to get an abortion. Like, what fucking business is it of any of yours?!
Anyway, as much as I was seething at each guy who brought her a marriage proposal, they are not portrayed as some awful creeps, they’re just ordinary, possibly even in another context, nice men, who are being told by society that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. The fact they are completely derailing her education and putting pressure on a young girl to make life-changing decisions probably doesn’t even occur to them.
To me, Yuni really just spoke about how people are the same all over the world. Yuni and my teenagehood could not look more different from the outside. I was an irreligious queer lass studying to get into uni and helping my mate raise her kid alone. And yet the same things come up in Yuni’s life, folk experiencing unsupported pregnancy, rape, abortion, domestic abuse, being queer and in the closet.
Finally I’m gonna just say about the visuals, this film is unearthly beautiful. Like, stunning. It feels so colourful and vivid, it’s worth watching just on that merit alone. So, so gorgeous.
Yuni is just a film filled with human drama. Visually outstanding, it also tells a story at once identifiably Indonesian, but also universal, about how, so early in life, girls are forced to grow up.