Timing, in politics and in movies, is everything — which is especially true for the new biopic “The Lady.”
Filmmakers originally just hoped to raise awareness about Burmese democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, but real life beat them to the punch: On April 1, she made headlines around the world when her party won a landslide victory in national elections.
So the Monday-night screening at the Motion Picture Association of America was an unusually hot ticket. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who met with Suu Kyi in Rangoon during an official visit in December — attended to give her official endorsement. “This is a terrific movie,” she told the audience of diplomats and activists. “This film portrays a woman whose story needs to be in theaters and living rooms across the world.”
Savvy filmmakers, who began working on the film while Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, went to extraordinary lengths to get a DVD copy to Clinton just before she touched down in Burma last year: Director Luc Besson had it hand-delivered to Clinton’s plane in South Korea, where and she and her staff watched it just hours before meeting with Suu Kyi.
Besson and star Michelle Yeoh were also on hand for the night’s warm-up act: The ubiquitous Washington panel discussion, where Besson said he “read the script and I cried for two hours” and a luminous Yeoh (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) described meeting her real-life inspiration: “It was just magical.”
Many are familiar with the broad outlines of Suu Kyi’s story, but the 132-minute epic plays out against the love story between the saintlike Suu Kyi and her husband, Oxford professor Michael Aris. When the Western-educated heroine returns to Burma to care for her ailing mother, she is recruited to lead the democracy movement. The couple and their sons struggle with their desire to be together as a family and her mission for a peaceful Burma. Many tears are shed: The bad guys are really bad, the good guys are really good. There’s a sort-of-happy ending.
Now reality is writing the sequel, and the business of politics is bound to color that rosy portrait. “ I did tell her in one of our recent telephone conversations that she was moving from icon to a politician,” Clinton told the audience. “Having made sort of the same journey to some extent, I know that that’s not easy, because now you go to a parliament and you start compromising — which is what democracy is all about.”