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Woman of Destiny

The Lady (2011)

Magali Bragard/Cohen Media Group

"The Lady," directed by Luc Besson, is a biographical melodrama set against the last 30 years of tumult in Myanmar. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, here played by Michelle Yeoh, is the lady in question: the daughter of assassinated Myanmar revolutionary, Gen. Aung San. Buoyed by her British husband and thousands of supporters, she endured years of house arrest and intimidation by the military junta and in turn became a leader in the ongoing fight for democracy.

From a Westerner's perspective, the film is a fascinating look at an oppressive dictatorship and the woman who stood in its way, although it never quite escapes the trappings of a typical Hollywood-style biopic, replete with clunky acting and an overly aggressive musical score. Perhaps Mr. Besson would disagree, but audiences are sophisticated enough to appreciate the gravity of a massacre or the wistfulness of returning home without grand, sweeping music at every cue. "The Lady" is at its best when it does away with the bells and whistles and focuses on the story itself.

Ms. Yeoh plays Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose rise to power begins when she returned to Myanmar in 1988 to visit her dying mother. As an actress, Ms. Yeoh has the radiance and poise befitting a quiet hero, but even her expressive eyes and phenomenal cheekbones cannot distract from the fact that she seemingly is not a confident English speaker. Her affect is wooden; her portrayal of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi ultimately one-dimensional. Since the film is purportedly a romance as well, this has an unfortunate impact on the chemistry between Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and her devoted professor husband. David Thewlis is warm and alive in the role of Michael Aris, but the interactions between the two are stilted and awkward.

Sadly, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and Aris spend precious little time together in the film, since Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi lives a large portion of her life under house arrest in Myanmar while the military police capture, torture and murder pro-democracy activists. To its credit, the film doesn't shy away from a few grotesque scenes of violence, which are necessary to understand what is at stake. Of course, we are also faced with problematic depictions of violence and fear — a police raid becomes a heart-pounding action scene out of a "Bourne" movie; the killing of a military subordinate is a suspenseful guessing game. While "The Lady" is at times beautiful, painful and smart, a nuanced film it is not.

It is, though, pretty inspiring. With the country embroiled in student riots, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi is called upon to finish the job her father started. She faces guns and threats with peaceful resistance and sacrifices her freedom for the cause. And while most biopics end on a note of satisfied resolution, "The Lady" does not and cannot. Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, is still one of the least-developed countries in the world and is home to torture, human trafficking and myriad other human-rights abuses. So for all its moments of schmaltz and melodrama and freeze-frames, "The Lady" must conclude in the present. It forces us into reality, which is a good thing. By necessity, it is a Hollywood film without a Hollywood ending.


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