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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

IF you can think of a more prob­lem­atic yet en­tic­ing South­east Asian na­tion than Burma — and con­vince me you’re right — then I’ll buy you a beer. Sure, democ­racy in Thai­land is want­ing and its south is in tur­moil; sure, In­done­sia pays lip ser­vice to re­form while the elites who fat­tened them­selves un­der Suharto largely continue to run the show, eco­nom­i­cally at least (and there­fore, by proxy, po­lit­i­cally). For that mat­ter, there are things wrong in pretty much any other coun­try in the re­gion you care to think of.

But Burma, his­tor­i­cally one of the jew­els in the crown of the British raj and in more re­cent decades the epit­ome of un­en­light­ened despo­tism, has long held a par­tic­u­lar place in the imag­i­na­tion of the West — both for all the wrong and all the right rea­sons.

The pres­ence of democ­racy ac­tivist Aung San Suu Kyi as a fig­ure­head for the strug­gle against a bru­tal and cor­rupt regime al­ways helped. Ed­u­cated, ar­tic­u­late, beau­ti­ful and up for two decades of house ar­rest in the name of free­dom for her peo­ple, away from her English aca­demic hus­band and their two sons — you could hardly write this stuff.

Ex­cept that, of course, vet­eran French di­rec­tor and writer Luc Bes­son did, and the re­sult is the splen­didly beau­ti­ful The Lady (MA15+, Road­show, 127min, $39.95, DVD/ 159min, $49.95, Blu-ray). With the great Chi­nese-Malaysian ac­tion star Michelle Yeoh play­ing the lead and David Thewlis as her hus­band, David Aris, the pro­duc­tion de­picts the strug­gles of the Burmese peo­ple and of Suu Kyi — the daugh­ter of mod­ern Burma’s found­ing fa­ther, Aung San — and her fam­ily.

The great tragedy, of course, was Aris’s death in 1999 be­fore the cou­ple had a chance to re­unite. Even so, Suu Kyi’s over­whelm­ing equa­nim­ity in the face of ad­ver­sity was an in­spi­ra­tion dur­ing those two decades of house ar­rest and on her even­tual per­ma­nent re­lease at the end of 2010.

Events as re­cent as the past year have seen a huge shift in how Burma op­er­ates, with al­most daily ev­i­dence of the coun­try’s slow re-en­try into a world sys­tem. Only last month came the an­nounce­ment that the gov­ern­ment would no longer pur­sue rou­tine censorship of the news me­dia, fol­low­ing elec­tions in April in which Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy won — and, un­like in its pre­vi­ous at­tempts, was granted — a ma­jor­ity of seats in Burma’s par­lia­ment.

The Lady is an evoca­tive ex­plo­ration of how it came to this, al­though I rec­om­mend you also watch the ad­dress Suu Kyi gave in Nor­way this year when she fi­nally was able to ac­cept her 1991 No­bel Peace Prize. (There had been an empty chair at each year’s awards cer­e­mony that she was not per­mit­ted to at­tend.) In that re­mark­ably hum­ble speech, Suu Kyi said she had tried, in the years since she was awarded it, to re­mem­ber what her im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was to re­ceiv­ing the No­bel hon­our. Her an­swer? ‘‘What the No­bel Peace Prize did was draw me once again into the world of other hu­man be­ings,’’ she said. A sin­gu­lar woman.

This week

(M) Road­show (113min, $39.95)

(G) Mad­man (45min, $24.95)

(M) Trans­mis­sion (108min, $34.95)

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