Yuni: the Color Purple

The New Wave of Indonesian Cinema

Directed by Kamila Andini, Yuni, the color purple, has become a topic of discussion in film festivals both locally and internationally. The new wave of Indonesian cinema is again filled with many arthouse films. The films are Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash directed by Edwin, and Paranoia directed by Riri Riza. However, Yuni is not unique in the eyes of Indonesian films. The stories of the marginalization of women are commonplace on the big screen. At least, in the last decade, the challenges faced are always the same, namely storytelling. In the case of the film, how to tell a story about a young girl who lives in the lower middle class who is neglected by the state and is at significant risk of being trapped in structural poverty is a big question.

The subject’s suffering often dominates to the point of closing the possibility of a broader perspective on the subject. However, the film takes another approach where Andini departs from the personal side of the protagonist. In the first sequence, the audience enters the protagonist’s room, Yuni. She showing her activities after getting up in the morning. While covering her private side, it includes the purple color from her bra to underwear.

The Dilemma of Yuni’s Maturity

Yuni is a person with a dynamic personality. She asked her friends in Serang Javanese: what is a virginity test? She starts sharing moments with her male school friend in an empty building, a typical coming-of-age. As her initial motivation, she outlined the ideal standards in society. There is sexual desire, curiosity, and confusion. Not shackled to her protagonist as an all-in-one, her life trajectory is full of contradictions and question marks. Films such as One Day We’ll Talk About Today have made female figures smile and be silent.

Typical films such as the motivation to serve the family have become an example. The example includes in most coming-of-age films, especially in Indonesian cinema. However, Andini’s confusion is extreme. Yuni does not master all subjects. She is also not only innocent about sex between her friends. However, she faces a personal dilemma. Why a high school girl, which is commonplace when playing too much, must know the future, adults, and everything?

The Slice of Life

Visually, Andini takes a personal approach to Yuni through the color purple. The camera is rarely free to highlight Yuni’s expressions and gestures from the beginning to the film’s end. When the school announced applying virginity tests to female students, the camera caught her confused expression. The chirps of other students and whispers filled the background while her expression became the camera’s focus. The film does not take on the topic of coming-of-age in placing its characters in a tight space. It is typical of many films about teenagers in Indonesia. Stereotypically, the audience is not given a clear picture of the characters’ origins. The trademark is busy bringing the characters to life in a bubble. It is not just about its life or the small sphere of the protagonist’s realm.

On the other hand, Andini’s work does not follow an Indonesian filmmaking tradition. She carries many cameras to highlight Yuni’s activities in her neighborhood. It is proven when the audience sees her hanging out with her friends from school near the beach, an alley near her house, a hangout place for local women, and so on. The audience always sees her out of the house. In one moment, the audience also saw her sneaking into the school toilet, where it became a place for students to exchange gossip were. Not infrequently, the protagonist became the subject of gossip.

The Defectiveness of Yuni

Yuni shows how society and its system work through color purple, various interactions, and activities. Yuni’s experiences are always related to her living environment, her interactions with the people around her, and the audience knowing how she is not alone. By seeing her, the audience got acquainted with other female characters. Some are her age, and some are older than her. Each character has an entirely different personality and behavior from her. In addition, each represents a piece of the theme in describing various dilemmas, situations, and problems that the characters, in general, must experience.

When it comes to the ideal woman, according to the protagonist’s school, the ideal woman is a woman who passes the virginity test and does not reveal her nakedness by singing. Through a policy handed down by the government, her school takes shortcuts to punish anyone deemed to have violated the norm. If Yuni and her friends do not pass the virginity test, they do not pass or, implicitly, are not ideal women. At the moment, the audience knows how schools, biasedly, do not provide sex education to their students. They also do not open a room for discussion about aurat (genitalia).

The Color of Purple

By seeking education through other channels, Yuni befriends marginalized parties often considered a “disease” by the system. She understood very well how early marriage was not the solution after hearing the problem from a salon worker who had been a victim of domestic violence. She also knows how a friend of her age who gave birth is no longer in school. By learning to express herself from the environment outside of school, she learns how the voice is not an aurat.

Social standards become a barrier, a lesson for Yuni when she meets a queer. Does she choose her conscience, cover her eye by solving it using adult problems, or obey society’s policies? In the end, Andini encourages her protagonist to admit his ignorance in making decisions that are considered careless or not by expectations. The purple color permeates all characters in the film, comes without a judge, and does not try to direct how a teenager, especially a girl, should behave.

The Adherence

Naturally, Yuni became an indie documentary-like film in setting out to explore the life of a typical Indonesian girl who was trapped in trepidation, confusion, and joy, universally experienced by teenagers. Despite its confidence and simplicity, the film never looks for an antagonist to its great credit. The crux of the matter, namely events and adulthood shaping life, is thrust upon girls like Yuni too soon. It is necessary to have more time for young women.

She observes the landscape and lives the air in which direction the characters want to go. With Andini’s help, she always curates lightness with serious points. Inevitably, the protagonist begins to receive financially lucrative marriage proposals. On the other hand, the film tries to find what it wants and how it can reach the bottom. However, Andini takes a risk by making Yuni seem unsympathetic in purple color. It is unsympathetic in understanding conclusions about a society that does not work well for male characters.


About the author

Salman Al Farisi is the owner of Calxylian and is an elitist who has enjoyed and studied various mediums. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 2020 from the Haluoleo University, Indonesia, where he studied English Literature, Film Criticism, Cultural Studies, Literary Theory, and Literary Criticism. He lives in Kendari in his mom's basement, now unemployed and ghostwriter, life with his cats, and is looking for the future.

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