Michelle Yeoh Takes on Aung Saan Su Kyi; Lucy Walker Films Tsunami Aftermath

Aung Saan, ably played by Michelle Yeoh, is a pacifist, which doesn’t make for big action scenes

With ‘The Lady,’ director Luc Besson takes on the life of a modern-day saint, Burma’s Aung Saan Su Kyi, who has lived under house arrest and isolation from the world for decades because of her refusal to submit to the military regime.

The story is both heart-breaking and inspiring. Aung Saan, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is a true, real-life heroine for her dignified dedication to human rights and democratic principles. She has been forced into an impossible choice between her husband and children, stuck in the West, or abandoning the struggle for democracy in her native country.

She has stubbornly stuck to her country, with the support of her family. 

Unfortunately, the movie is static and ponderously long. Simply not enough happens. Aung Saan, ably played by Michelle Yeoh, is a pacifist, which doesn’t make for big action scenes. The film could probably better play on television than the big screen which – since it’s up for sale – may well be where it lands.

A sleepy score does not help.

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More gripping is real-life footage of the tsunami in Japan earlier this year, in a film by Oscar-nominated documentarian Lucy Walker that was a last-minute addition to the festival.

“The Tsunami and The Cherry Blossom' opens with a long clip of footage of the tsunami which is very simply jaw-dropping. Water sweeps houses and buildings along like toys, lifts up cars and swallows people.

Walker, one of the more fearless video-journalists around, went straight to the heart of the disaster, a northern Japanese village, where people were still in a state of shock. They shared their traumas, what they learned, how it affected their view of the world.

One man had his closest friend swept away in the water, just out of his grasp; a young girl was traumatized by memories of people calling for help who she could not reach.

It is all framed by the metaphor of cherry blossoms, a symbol deep in Japanese culture that suggests rebirth, and spring.  

It turns out that Walker had started out doing a short film about cherry blossoms when the tsunami hit in March. “My first thought was, ‘Oh no, we can’t do it,’” she said at the q&a afterward. “My second thought was,  ‘It’s more important than ever.’”

The 40-minute film is close to being bought by HBO.