Sunday, March 24, 2013

THE LADY

Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis


"Wife. Mother. Prisoner. Hero"

HBO



Luc Besson would probably be the last director on earth you would associate with directing a biopic. The French director is more renowned for high octane filled action movies.   

Yet with "The Lady" he presents a poignant look at the story of an iconic figure, Aung San Suu Kyi.  The Burmese leader who spent 15 years under house arrest for opposing the military junta in her country.

It begins in Rangoon, 1947 with the assassination of her father, a popular leader who was killed on the eve of his assumption of the presidency.  Almost 40 years later, Aung San Suu Kyi returns from London where she has been living with her British husband, a Professor at Oxford and her two sons.   In 1998, she returns to Myanmar to be with her mother who is gravely ill,  she then decides to stay in order to restore democracy.

The government puts her under house arrest for inciting people to fight against the junta. For most of her long confinement, Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband and sons remained in England although they were allowed to visit during school holidays.

Besson focused more attention on the much tested but enduring marriage between Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband, Professor Michael Aris  It may be a good way to personalize a political story, but it also derailed the movie’s pursuit of larger and perhaps more significant purposes.   

For instance, it didn't feature how she became a political figure.  Yes, granted that she is the daughter of a politician so naturally it is in her genes.  But it would also be interesting to know her views when she was still a student in London. Was she influenced by her studies in a Western society?  What made her believe that democracy was the only form of government which was help the Burmese people?

The film is well crafted and told with a well researched narrative.  It certainly shows that behind every great woman is a greater man who is secure and quite aware of his role in the equation.  Michael Aris was a man who stayed in the background by supporting his wife's noble intentions.  But he wasn't a silent partner as he did extensive propaganda and raised funds as well as worldwide political support for the Burmese people.  

The most intense moment remains that scene where he was already stricken with prostate cancer yet he refused to let his wife come visit him in London.  The couple’s decision for her to stay in Burma during her husband’s terminal illness, because they know the generals wouldn’t let her return, is played up as a more tragic personal sacrifice than anything else. 

Overall, the film comes across more as a vivid human drama than a political story. It doesn't really reveal much about the iconic figure's life before she became the definitive symbol against the oppressive regime in Myanmar.  For a news junkie like myself, it just played out events I was already quite familiar with.

But Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi was perfect for the role.  From her physical appearance to her manner of walking and speaking, she captured the essence of The Lady with the flower in her hair.

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