KAMILA ANDINI and her third feature film, “YUNI”, (Indonesia, 2021)

by Cynthia Webb, at Brisbane International Film Festival, Qld, Australia

(Scroll to below the photos, to find the article please!)

Kamila Andini and her third feature film, “Yuni” 2021

                                                                  by Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

The first thing to mention is that I am a long time friend of Kamila Andini and her family, so there is no objectivity possible, however deeper insights ARE possible.  When I see any of her films, I see them through my own eyes, which also see and know Kamila  as a sensitive, intelligent and deeply empathetic young woman who has turned her creative talent to film-making.

Friends and family call her Dini, and Dini grew up observing and more importantly, absorbing the cinematic work of her father Garin Nugroho, who has long been Indonesia’s most internationally recognized film director. Having studied Sociology at Deakin University in Australia, Kamila Andini added  academic knowledge to what she already knew about her own people, their cultural ways and their lives in Java, Indonesia.

Kamila Andini has made three feature films now, plus a one hour ‘short film’, which almost became a feature. All have been internationally successful and receiving very good reviews at international film festivals. Probably some of those reviewers had no personal experience of the multi-cultural nature of Indonesia, and the varied ways of living across that great archipelago. It’s a complex land of many totally different ethnic groups, with their own languages and ways of life. Watching films about other cultures can be very informative and inspiring, even though probably we also miss out on some of the nuances of cultural beliefs that are being portrayed, but slip past us. But after spending years watching world cinema we can learn so much. Most important of all, is the knowledge that everywhere people have the same hopes and dreams and needs.

The first feature was about a little known group, the Bajau or Sea-Gypsy people who live in bamboo huts on jetties, built above coral reefs, rather than on the actual ‘mainland’ of the islands. They live on the sea, and from the sea. These people can be found throughout South East Asia, from the Philippines, to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The film’s title is “The Mirror Never Lies” (or “Laut Bercermin”, 2011). It is beautiful to behold, thanks to glorious location in South East Suluwesi and the stunning cinematography. The story is about a ten year old girl, waiting for her father to come home from a fishing trip in his tiny boat. He’s days then weeks late, and probably won’t return, but hope springs eternal.

This was followed in 2018, with a film Kamila had been planning for a very long time, and had told me about back in 2011.  The title, “The Seen and the Unseen” (“Sekala, Niskala”) – which is Balinese language for the same, meaning that both worlds exist together in the Balinese culture. This film was about twin children, a boy and a girl around the same age as her previous young protagonist. The boy becomes fatally ill, and is in hospital, and the story examines the Balinese girl’s spiritual way of coping with losing “her other half”.

Between these films, Kamila made “Following Diana” – about a Javanese wife and mother, whose husband has decided he wants to take a second wife. Diana just won’t stand for it, and prefers anything to being superseded by a younger woman. No woman anywhere would want this, and Kamila Andini is well aware of that fact , especially now that she herself is a married woman with two young daughters. Diana chooses the more difficult way in practical terms, to live as a solo-mother, rather than allow her pride and dignity to be insulted this way, a way that is still happening in Muslim Indonesia, although officially ‘frowned upon’.

So now in her third feature film, “Yuni”, Kamila has tackled another situation that commonly occurs in Indonesia – that of teenage love and marriage, or even teenage marriage minus the love, because it is pressed upon the unfortunate girls by the demands of the traditions and the parents. The not often considered lost hopes and dreams of the young women is the most important theme in Kamila’s mind. 

Of course this also happens in many other Islamic cultures, in the regions far from the more sophisticated and modern cities.  Indonesia is very comparable to Turkey, with Sunni Islam, with a small number of sophisticated, modern 21st Century lifestyle cities, and remote but vast areas of villages and small towns where the old customs are still applied. I have seen Turkish films on exactly the same theme.

 There are many countries which have a sort of split personality such as this, and it’s so difficult in this Internet era, for the young women living in the remote traditional small towns and villages. Modernization raced ahead at dizzying speed in the outside world, where in their villages, and probably the minds of their parents, time almost stood still. On their cellphones, teenagers find out how their contemporaries in the cities are living, and what is happening in the outside world. They want to be free to develop their talents, their lives, and their fullfil their potential. But their hopes and dreams are often thwarted by their parents, and the close-knit life and traditions of the villages, which belong to a by-gone era.

So here in “Yuni”, we can see through the empathetic eyes of Kamila Andini, the life of Yuni, who is 16 years old and one of the smartest students in her school. She is about to graduate from high school and would love to continue her studies. One of her teachers has even organised a scholarship for her. BUT, back at her home living with her beloved grandmother, while her parents work far away in Jakarta, suitors are coming calling with offers of marriage, explaining unimpressive dowrys as persuasion.  First is a handsome young man who works at the local factory and has career potential. She spurns him.  Second is a kind and nice man, twice her age and already married, who wants to make her his second wife. He brings his wife and says she approves, but did she have any option?

Although the local custom says it’s very unlucky to refuse a second marriage proposal, Yuni refuses anyway. Then there is a third proposal too, and this one has some hidden complications and some of them actually might even suit her. They could have perhaps been a way out for her.

 However, in the meantime, Yuni has done something desperate, to try to escape marriage, because she doesn’t want to marry anyone!  She wants her freedom, to explore her own potential, and feels unready to even contemplate marriage.

 In the film, which shows how vulnerable, ill-informed  and innocent Yuni and all of her young girl-friends are, we sometimes listen in on their ‘secret girls’ conversations’, where they share what they know about the mysterious matters of sex and men, and the frightening condition of marriage, made all the more frightening when you are only in your mid teens. They live in a small village, on the coast, a world of its own, where without the coming of the internet and the cellphone, they would be even more ‘in the dark’ about these matters.

Yuni is shown in several scenes going to a small kiosk to buy more internet data for her cellphone, which is her connection to the wider world. She buys this charge-up funding for her internet access from Yoga,  a young man who is painfully shy and  desperately in love with her.  This link between her, the internet access and the young man who loves her is crucially important, symbolising and defining her predicament.

Everything is filmed on location in a typical village and school and so reality is vividly portrayed.

There is more, which is not to be told here… except to say, that once again Kamila Andini is showing her sensitivity and insight into the things that are ‘women’s business’.

 She is a creator, and so uses her own ideas and understandings to write her own screenplays, and to find the right locations, in which to set and film her stories. Therefore of course they are one hundred percent accurate to the way of life on her own island of Java, Indonesia.

 Kamila hasn’t been a village girl, nor subjected to any of this sort of thing herself, but she knows it very well, from her own observations. Actually she is a sort of role model that so many young women in Indonesia would look up to with great admiration and some envy too. She’s grown up in a sophisticated, artistic and loving family who also observe the old traditions of pre Islamic Java. She has known life in the city of Jakarta, and also in Yogyakarta, which is a large town, but rather like a village in so many ways. She is steeped in Javanese tradition, at the same time as being a cosmopolitan, privileged young woman of the 21st Century. 

In the 2021 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) Kamila Andini was in the nominations list for her sensitive work as Director on “YUNI”. Yes, this emerging young director, is in a list competing against a maestro of world cinema, Asghar Farhadi, who started his journey on the road to international fame at APSA too, back in 2009, when he came to the Gold Coast with a film in competition, “About Elly”, and a screenplay that won a grant, and became the worldwide hit “A Separation”, which ultimately won the Academy Award for foreign language films. When he first came to APSA, he too was unknown outside his own country, and had made only a couple of previous feature films.

In previous APSA years, two of Kamila Andini’s films have won Best Youth Feature Film. They were”The Mirror Never Lies”, and “The Seen and the Unseen”.

I would think that this film “YUNI” could not be screened in Indonesian cinemas, without some censorship cuts of certain scenes, and if that were to happen, it would remove a crucial aspect of the story of Yuni’s life, and weaken the film’s statement.  This would be a great pity, because so many millions, yes millions of young women there would very much appreciate seeing, in its entirety, a film that tells their own story.  (The island of Java has a population of around 130 million and half of them are women.)

Copyright – Cynthia Webb

29th October, 2021

photo of Kamila Andini, by Cynthia Webb

Film Poster, thanks to the Producers

About cynephilia

Lifetime student of and devourer of international Cinema. Artist, teacher, traveller - especially to my "other home", Java, Indonesia. Features writer for 14 years, for The Jakarta Post, national English language daily newspaper. I was born in New Zealand, but lived in Queensland, Australia since 1970. My profound link with Indonesia began in 1983, when visiting Bali (then an island of arts and of inspiration for an artist), and then again in 1994 when a visit to Yogyakarta, Java, began a process of that town and it's warm people becoming another home and extended family for me. Yogyakarta is the Artistic capital of Indonesia, and so it was the place for me. In 2000 I became a regular contributor about the arts for The Jakarta Post, and cinema, my lifetime passion, later began to become my focus for writing. The advent of The Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) in South East Queensland, launched in 2007 gave me opportunities to meet some the great film-makers of Asia, and see their amazing work. APSA is a kind of "Oscars" for the Asia-Pacific Region.
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