Thursday, May 10, 2012

Great person, not a great movie

Bio-pic about a Nobel prize winner needed more interpretive spark.

The Lady is a big-screen biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader who spent 15 years under house arrest for opposing her country's brutal military regime.

The movie also serves as a showcase for actress Michelle Yeoh , who gained international prominence when she appeared in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and who gives a carefully calibrated performance as a woman who sacrificed much to fight for Burma, now known as Mayanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi's fate as a leader and icon may have been sealed in 1947 when her liberal-leaning father was assassinated on the eve of assuming the country's presidency. In the 1960s, Aung San Suu Kyi traveled to Britain, married an Oxford professor (David Thewlis) and had two sons.

Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar in 1988 to be with her dying mother, and stayed to fight for democracy. For most of her long confinement, Aung San Suu Kyi's husband and sons remained in England.

Director Luc Besson, who usually makes or produces stylish, propulsive action pictures (The Fifth Element) isn't exactly operating from a position of strength when it comes to a bio-pic with a heavy political overlay.

Besson and screenwriter Rebecca Frayn clearly admire Aung San Suu Kyi, as well they should. Absent from their picture, though, is a sense of incendiary passion about the subject, other than what was required to have chosen it in the first place.

Though consistently well-crafted, The Lady misses the greatness that Aung San Suu Kyi's story deserved. Focusing so much attention on the much-tested but enduring marriage between Aung San Suu Kyi and her professorial husband, Michael Aris, may have seemed a way to personalize a political story, but it also helped derail the movie's pursuit of larger and perhaps more significant purposes.

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose house arrest ended in 2010, recently took a seat in the Burmese Parliament, despite her severe (and totally justifiable) reservations about the country's new constitution, a document that dictates that a quarter of the parliament must come from the military. With or without a movie about her, Aung San Suu Kyi's fight continues.

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