“Marriage is a blessing”, according to a wise old grandma, “we shouldn’t refuse a blessing, no?” expressing a commonly held belief in the traditional small town where the titular Yuni (Arawinda Kirana) resides in Kamila Andini’s melancholy social drama. Yuni meanwhile isn’t so sure, if marriage is a blessing then why does it feel like a trap and how can you call something a blessing if as it seems to have been for some of her friends it only results in violence and misery? 

At 17 Yuni is a talented student, her progressive female teacher urging her to consider going to college while offering various pamphlets about applying for scholarships which Yuni feels might make it easier for her parents to accept. Yet in addition to the academic criteria, the rules are clear that married women are not eligible which is a problem because Yuni has just received her first marriage proposal from a man recently relocated to the village who is handsome enough and thought a catch because he has a good job in a local factory. 

While everything in Yuni screams no, she finds it difficult to articulate her resistance constantly second guessing herself wondering if she’s doing the right thing or if as some of the other girls suggest she is lucky to have received such a generous offer and ought to accept it. Her obsession with the colour purple, the colour both of a wedding dress and according to another girl widow’s weeds, which causes her to steal any purple item she sees is an expression of her alienation yearning for colour and vibrancy in a culture which seems to deny her both. Dressing in purple under her green school uniform, she rejects the idea of marriage and wants to continue her education, spending time with an older woman who takes her to clubs to dance enjoying the illicit freedom of a modern society which has otherwise been kept from her. 

Even at school, her freedom begins to shrink. The Islamic Club seems to dominate everything, planning to introduce virginity tests for the female students to prevent the inconvenience and shame of teenage pregnancy though it does not seem as if the boys are given the same talk. The girls are all convinced that one of their classmates is pregnant because she wears a baggy jacket and has become withdrawn, but later wonder if she may have been raped no one seemingly very interested in helping her. Later after embarking on an escapist romance with diffident and sensitive classmate Yoga (Kevin Ardillova), Yuni is also asked if was raped when confessing that she is no longer a virgin in order to escape a second marriage proposal to become the second wife of a wealthy old man who not so subtly tries to buy her from her grandmother while implying that she might be considered damaged goods as a woman who’s already rejected a suitor. 

Yuni is warned that turning down a second proposal is bad luck and struggles with herself in her decision, her internal confusion ironically interfering with her studying making it harder for her to escape through education. Meanwhile she hears of a woman who married young but experienced domestic violence after her husband blamed her for a series of miscarriages only to be disowned by her family following a divorce they again telling her she ought to have counted herself lucky that her husband still put up with her despite her “condition”. Another friend’s husband has abandoned her with a young son and she isn’t sure if she should divorce him and look for someone else, while one of Yuni’s classmates ends up having to marry a teenage boyfriend when a gang of blackmailers threatens to ruin their reputations after discovering them taking photos at a well known hookup spot. 

With most of the other women largely complicit, Yuni feels she has no one to talk to or turn to for advice eventually pouring her heart out to the sensitive Yoga who offers to run away with her knowing that nothing will change as long as she stays in the conservative environment of their hometown. Even the teacher whom she’d once admired, Mr. Damar (Dimas Aditya), proves no ally attempting to use her to escape his own sense of impossibility after she catches him trying on women’s clothes at a local department store. Mr. Damar’s own desperation causes him to act in the most insidious of ways, in effect barring Yuni’s path out of her repressive life in inappropriately wielding his power as a teacher against her. Having lost all confidence, Yuni no longer knows what she wants out of life and is growing weary of fighting the same battles in attempting to struggle free of the constraints of traditional patriarchy but is left with little choice once all her dreams are shattered. A tragedy of modern day Indonesia, Yuni sees its heroine’s spirit gradually crushed by the world in which she lives in which she has only the choice of lonely exile or resigned misery. 


Yuni screened as part of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival and is available to stream in the UK until 8th March.

International trailer (English subtitles)

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