Burma's national heroine Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh) and her husband, the academic Dr Michael Aris (David Thewlis) maintain their loving relationship despite distance, periods of long separation, and a dangerously hostile political regime. A living symbol of freedom, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was held under house arrest by Burma's military junta for more than two decades until her release in 2010. (On the eve of this film's Australian release in April 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was again elected to the parliament in the first democratic elections in decades - this time perhaps she can actually take her seat.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Ignore the vanilla title and overlook Luc Besson's overriding respect and admiration for Aung San Suu Kyi to get the most out of this partial biography. It is partial because it is rather incomplete (we see nothing of her youth, her early life meeting her husband or having her children), focusing on her as the wife and mother who is torn by her love and duty to he family and her love and duty to her country. The former are more forgiving and understanding than the military junta ruling the latter.
The film begins with a flashback to 1947 when her father Aung San, a revolutionary General regarded as the father of modern Burma, says a tender goodbye to the 2 year old Suu in the garden of the grand family waterside mansion before he is driven off to work - where he is shot dead. So begins a film that's part history lesson part admiring profile.
Jumping forward (in a rather large leap) the film picks up in 1988 and then 1989 as it quickly establishes the brutal nature of the military dictatorship crushing human rights in Burma. Anyone who keeps up with world affairs would be aware of the big picture, but Besson shows us some of the detail - where the devil definitely lives.
But what the film does best is what writer Rebecca Frayn and director Besson seem to have set out to do, namely to explore the extraordinary bonds of the family relationships that endure through extended separation and intense pressure. David Thewlis gives Michael Aris a palpable sense of resilience as he provides full moral support to his wife, and sharing her dream of a democratic Burma. When he is diagnosed with prostate cancer, his burdens magnify.
The repeated crackdowns by the Generals and their determination to crush the movement Suu inspires is effectively shown. When Michael triggers a move to recognise his Suu with a Nobel Peace Prize, it is as much a political maneuver as an act of loving support.
Thewlis terrific as the tussle haired academic (he also plays his own brother Anthony and Michelle Yeoh is formidable as Suu, keeping her emotions under control and even her fiery temper in check. We see these simmering beneath surface and we feel her outrage. Yeoh's physical proximity to Suu Kyi helps, but it's her emotional and intellectual essence that is the more impressive.
For all its large and little flaws, The Lady is recommended for anyone interested in how a lone woman can alter history with a strict code of anti- violence - as did moral giants such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela among others. It's inspirational and reassuring: humans can redeem themselves and dictators shall perish.
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LADY, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett, Johnathan Woodhouse, Benedict Wong
PRODUCER: Luc Besson, Andy Harries, Virginie Siller, Jean Todt
DIRECTOR: Luc Besson
SCRIPT: Rebecca Frayn
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Thierry Arbogast
EDITOR: Julien Rey
MUSIC: Eric Serra
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Hugues Tissandier
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 19, 2012
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.