Luc Besson’s The Lady closed the festival and Julien Planté brings us his review.
“Freedom from fear”. Everything is there. This is the title of Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech in 1990 and the story of Luc Besson’s new movie, The Lady. This film, which closed the 3rd Doha Tribeca Film Festival on the 29th October, is arguably his best yet.
Luc Besson has a habit of falling in love with his characters, sometimes even his actresses. We saw it with Nikita (Anne Parillaud), Angel-A (Rie Rasmussen), Leeloo and Joan of Arc (Milla Jovovich), and even more recently with Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin). Here, however, he falls in love with a real person, a strong individual with an inner beauty, a woman who doesn’t need money, power or fame, a woman who wants peace, freedom and love… In one word: a lady.
Aung San Suu Kyi led the non-violent opposition to Burman’s military dictatorship for more than twenty years, fifteen of which were spent in jail or under house arrest, until her release on the 13th November 2010. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Today she is free and continues her life-long fight for democracy. The Lady follows this struggle for freedom and justice: a battle fought not with weapons but words.
By focussing on Aung San Suu Kyi’s family, scriptwriter and novelist Rebecca Frayn manages to universalise a story that might otherwise seem hard to relate to. When she is given the choice between living in exile in Britain with her family and remaining alone in Burma, husband Michael Aris and children Alexander and Kim support her decision to remain with her people. They fight on her side, even if they can’t be by her side.
Paying tribute to this extraordinary woman was a labour of love for Michelle Yeoh, who plays the lead role. Taking on the role of Aung San Suu Kyi was an honour and a great responsibility for Yeoh, who, like many Asian women, considered her an icon. It’s without a doubt Michelle Yeoh’s finest role and best performance. She plays Aung San Suu Kyi with grace and a striking likeness. She captures perfectly her behaviour, her gestures, the wistfulness in her eyes and her strength which grows in confidence and maturity.
On Besson’s first reading of the script, brought to him by Yeoh, he was moved to tears and decided that “the story had to be told.” And there was no way he was going to let anyone else tell it. This was indeed a project of passion and love for everyone involved. It was shot in around three months in a secret location in Thailand. It was “just a love story,” the producers would say cautiously to prevent a leak that could put the whole film at risk.
The Lady is an important film. It can have a political impact, spreading a positive message all around the world. Singers like Bono, Damien Rice and Jane Birkin have already alerted their audiences to the cause several years ago but now we have a great film which can be used as a tool. Just before the credits roll these words appear: “Use your freedom to talk about ours.” This is what Besson has done in making The Lady. And in urging you to see this beautiful film, this is what I attempt to do as well.
The Lady opens 30th November in UK cinemas.
www.useyourfreedom.com: “Use your freedom to promote ours!”