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THE LADY is an epic love story about how an extraordinary couple and family sacrifice their happiness at great human cost for a higher cause. This is the story of Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband, Michael Aris. Despite distance, long separations, and a dangerously hostile regime, their love endures until the very end. A story of devotion and human understanding set against a background of political turmoil which continues today. THE LADY also is the story of the peaceful quest of the woman who is at the core of Burma's democracy movement. Written by
Based on the story by Rebecca Frayn, who had spent three years interviewing close confidantes of Aung San Suu Kyi, the narrative provides the points of view of both Suu Kyi herself, played by Michelle Yeoh, and her husband Michael Aris (David Thewlis), who because of her political awakening and development, caused plenty of emotionally painful, physical separation and time spent apart through her standing up for and accepting her countrymen's push for democratic leadership, after years of military rule from generalissimos Ne Win to Tan Shwe (Agga Poechit). It also presents different perspectives both within and outside of Burma as crises began to unfold with Suu Kyi a prisoner of her own home and country, and Michael being outside of it trying his best to sound out her, and Burma's plight. Then there's the sacrifice of family for country, where a breakup of the family unit was something inevitable in order to continue being there for her countrymen and not abandoning them at times of need.
In a story spanning decades that moves forward and back in time, Besson has a solid hand in knowing the highlights of the many years history to translate for the big screen, going back to the 40s when Suu Kyi's father Aung San, a war and independence hero, got assassinated, right down to her emergence in politics as a force to be reckoned with, and her subsequent house arrest, right up to the recent 2007 rallies and demonstrations by monks that eventually led to a deadly crackdown. The Lady presents Besson an opportunity to move away from his relatively family friendly fare of late with the Arthur and the Invisibles series, and also to perform an about turn from the usual action flicks, for something a lot more serious in gravitas, and needless to say the importance of getting the film right in most, if not all counts, as much as a filmmaker can with the resources at his disposal.
As such, some may feel that the film is relatively lightweight in its coverage of politics, although I must add that being confined to one's home in the prominent years of one's political life doesn't make for a smooth translation on screen, as there's only so much that one can do within the fantastic recreation of Suu Kyi's lakeside home. Instead a softer, more heartfelt approach through a love story opened up Suu Kyi as a character who's a lot more down to earth, than just a democracy icon. Besson's knack for handling strong female characters couldn't be more pronounced here, with plenty of opportunities in scenes to show she does not cower even with gun barrels pointed at her face, nor accept the constant nonsense dished out by the military might.
Despite the lack of action, you can feel Luc Besson's release of glee in channeling that frustration to mocking the military top brass, from their deliberate big moments and silly gestures bordering on the comical, to their illogical superstitions, with characterization being very much in line with our esteemed ex Minister Mentor's comments in WikiLeaks. Almost all generalissimos and their underlings are ridiculously decorated, and make extremely naive calls as if nobody can see through their simple rouse. It's a story of grace versus guns, which in any other typical Besson movie it's no surprise if it comes with preference for the latter, except for The Lady which trades in for the softer power approach.
Michelle Yeoh lost quite a lot of weight in order to physically resemble the lead role, and her time spent on researching Suu Kyi was time well spent as she nailed her mimicry down to a pat. Even her lines spoken in Burmese were flawless. Not that I can understand the language, but the large percentage of Burmese audience that I've watched this with were nodding and acknowledging her diction and fluency, as well as her performance of the real life heroine of their lives. In short, they were in awe by her elegance and poise in making Suu Kyi come alive on screen. David Thewlis also shone in his role as the husband standing firmly behind her decision and to make sacrifices knowingly for the greater good, for the benefit of even more people in a country that needs his wife more than he needs her. Together they made their struggle felt, and will seek to move even the most stoic of hearts. And the actors who played the Burmese generals, you guys surely hammed it up effortlessly.
This superb film may be travelling the festival and commercial theatrical circuits now, and will probably pick up a slew of film awards along the way. But what's more important and I'm sure it'll achieve, is to bring the attention of the world towards Suu Kyi's, and Burma's continued plight that seemed to be with no end in sight. You may not be very familiar with what may have transpired over the decades of strife in Burma, but The Lady brings you up to speed with a succinctly packed historical lesson centered around one of the world's enduring icons of freedom and democracy. A definite recommendation for this wonderful effort.
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