(Update: The Lady is opening today for one week in LA for an Oscar qualifying run. It will open early next year here in the US. I also have been told that about 30 minutes has been shaved off — I haven’t seen the new version yet).
One of the films I was most excited to see at TIFF was The Lady directed by Luc Besson with Michelle Yeoh portraying the leader of the democracy movement in Burma Aung San Suu Kyi. I kind of didn’t know what to expect because Luc Besson is not known for his dramatic chops. But I was, and am, so interested in this woman and I was impressed that he was the one who took on the story.
For Michelle Yeoh this is the role of a lifetime. She spent years researching and she looked scarily like Suu which is what she was called by the people who love and know her. This is another story of an unexpected female leader. Aung San Suu Kyi was happily an academic’s wife, married to Michael Aris and living in Oxford raising two sons when she returned to Burma in the late 80s to care for her mother who had suffered a stroke.
She saw what was going on in her beloved country which her father Aung San who was a general and a leader for democracy who was murdered when she was a child. When she returned she was asked by her fellow citizens to stand up for them as the leader of the democratic movement. The film depicts a woman who goes from a wife and mom (there is no information in the film on what she did in Oxford outside the home) to a leader of a democracy movement. You see a woman take her fears of having never spoken in public before and use that to propel her into a national and worldwide figure.
The interesting thing about the film is that while it is a political film it does not come off as a political film. It really comes off as a love story between Suu and Michael played marvelously by David Thewlis. It is Michael’s love and his understanding of her responsibilities that allow Suu to become the leader she needs to be. He takes over (with the help of his sister) all the needs of their children when they are separated because she was held under house arrest. The couple go through many years of not being able to see each other and the films shows the cost of that to their family. The military leaders try at many intervals to get her to give up her commitment to democracy by making her feel like a bad mother and a bad wife because she has abandoned her family.
One of the high points of the film is Michael’s campaign to get Suu the Nobel Peace Prize to raise her visibility to protect her safety. He succeeded in 1991 and there is a moving scene of one of her sons accepting the award on her behalf as she listened to ceremony on a radio from her home prison in Burma. You can’t help but be moved by that.
This woman is a true leader. The film shows how she even gets to the people who are charged with holding her prisoner. Her quiet and deep convictions for the people of her country and their needs are her primary goal in life. The problem with the film, which is written by Rebecca Frayne, is that we only seem to see Aug San Suu Kyi as a perfect specimen of a woman. She seems to have no faults. While she says that she is stubborn and difficult to her husband she comes off as beyond reproach. We need to be able to see our female leaders like our male leaders as full human being flaws and all.
The good news is that Cohen Media Group (which will also release Oranges & Sunshine) has picked up the film and will release it before the end of the year to try and generate some Oscar buzz for both Yeoh and Thewlis.