Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Lady": the sad history of Burma through the eyes of an opposition family

The Lady”, the biography from director Luc Besson (and the (new?) distributor Cohen Media Group (site), and giant production company Europa), sounds like it would be a companion to TWC’s “The Iron Lady” (here, Jan. 16), and certainly the famous opposition politician Aung San Suu Kwi (Michelle Yeoh), who lived her life for democratic reform in Burma (Myanmar),  was made of iron.

Aung was the secretary for the National League for Democracy (NLD) and despite the party’s winning a majority in 1990, after her return in 1988, she remained under house arrest until 2010. 

Her father had been assassinated in 1947 (in the opening sequence of the film, quite brutal).  In 1988, when her mother had a stroke, she returned to Burma from London to help care for her. Her husband Michael Aris (David Thewlis), a literature professor  and two wonderful sons accompany her but are forced to go back.  In the ensuing periods, she and her husband are able to garner popular support to pressure the almost comically brutal regime into some restraint.  (The general seems like an impersonation of Sacha Baron Cohen).

But the real story of the movie is about her family.  The movie opens in the present, as Aris gets a terminal diagnosis of prostate cancer,  and then lectures his own literature students about family values and respect for elders.  The narrative then returns to 1988 to tell the heart of the story. The intimacy in the family, and its urge to stay together when it could not, is striking to me, imparting emotion that I don’t experience myself.

The look of the film, shot in Thailand, is epic.  The appearance of the temples contrasts with the squalor in the streets and prisons. 

I saw this at the latest show Thursday night at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax, VA.  Prices have gone up, but the theater has put in enhanced digital projection, and the experience in this old theater was far better than it had been before.  I was alone in the auditorium.  It seemed as though this was a showing just for me!

A related film is John Boorman's "Beyond Rangoon" for Columbia (1995), with Patricia Arquette and U Aung Ho. 

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