by Olivia Hird
"Pictures of the two elderly women serve as a reminder of all they have lived through together."
Winner of CPH:DOX’s NEXT:WAVE award, You & I is a gracious documentation of female friendship between two political prisoners nearing the end of their days. Contributing to the recent canon of observational documentaries exploring old age, including América (dir. Chase Whiteside & Erick Stoll) and Island (dir. Steven Eastwood), Fanny Chotimah’s sensitive portrait is a welcome addition.
74-year-old Kusdalini and 70-year-old Kaminah met in 1965 when, following political conflict and mass killings in Indonesia, they found themselves sharing a prison cell due to their involvement in the communist youth organisation. Since their release, they have lived and worked together in Surakarta, Central Java. Now selling homemade rice crackers to make a modest living, we meet the women as Kaminah cares for Kusdalini’s ever evolving needs.
Their weary home is speckled with pictures of them both, smiling side-by-side, just as they have done for more than half a decade. The young, capable bodies frozen in time behind the two elderly women serve as a reminder of all they have lived through together. The concept of platonic partnerships has yet to find its place within society’s construct of the norm; Rhaina Cohen’s 2020 longread “What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Centre of Life?” originally published by The Atlantic, explores this seemingly sensible relational dynamic and the film sustains the article’s stance, with the two women exclusively referring to each other as ‘Dear’.
Bound to a chair with sore knees, Kusdalini refuses to relinquish control as she keeps score of domestic duties and social engagements in her self-assigned role as backseat driver. Kusdalini’s favourite line of inquiry seems to be determining the livelihood of her friends. One-by-one she runs through names and, as Kaminah informs her that each one is dead, she responds with mild surprise before un-sentimentally moving on to the next.
Kaminah rubs cream into her friend’s joints and patiently repeats each unheard sentence upon request, growing louder in volume and slower in pace with every attempt to communicate. Acknowledging the reality of the situation - “How can I talk to you if you forget everything?” - whilst affectionately touching Kusdalini and generously responding to her every requirement. What opens as a tiresome, yet ever affectionate and humorous dynamic, progresses into the realisation of what the winding down of life looks like and how it affects those who will be left behind to bear the loss.
The impending probability of her own solitude wills Kaminah to devote herself to Kusdalini’s bedside. A particularly demanding scene unfolds as Kusdalini refuses to open her mouth for feeding. Kaminah’s patient request turns into a beg before evolving into a plea. The line between care and desperation blur as food slips down Kusdalini’s chin. Even in these moments of helplessness, Kaminah is driven to give Kusdalini her all; massaging her hands and arms, dressing her body and wiping her own eyes with the tissue used to clean Kaminah’s mouth. These unsparingly intimate acts testify to the depth of their friendship.
Exemplifying the inimitable care and closeness that fifty years of togetherness has fostered, Chotimah’s observations provide a privileged proximity to this cherished relationship at its most challenging time. It's a refreshing kind of love story.
Olivia will be back to review further documentaries from this years festival soon. Catch the first two parts from our CPH:DOX 2021 round-up coverage here and here.
Olivia Hird is a freelancer in documentary production. Obsessed with all things non-fiction, she has a taste for the milk of human kindness. You can find her on Instagram at @oliviahird