If you're within 100 miles of San Jose, and you're not planning to come to at least part of Cinequest...well, then I just don't know how to relate to you. I know I say this about every festival, and I'm definitely a proponent of the "love the one you're with" school of film festival sluttiness, but Cinequest really feels like a special homecoming this year. I hugged so many old friends (at least, friends for two weeks a year) in the VIP lounge before the film, and at the party afterwards. This year just feels extra special, like there's some extra energy this year--a "Neverending Passion" as it were.
Oh, and there was also an excellent movie, THE LADY directed by Luc Besson and starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewliss. It suddenly dawned on me that Luc Besson has made quite a career out of showcasing very strong women, either from his imagination (LA FEMME NIKITA, THE FIFTH ELEMENT) or from history (THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC.) Well, now he takes on the story of possibly the most inspirational woman leader alive today--Burmese civil rights/democracy activist (and Nobel Prize Winner) Aung San Suu Kyi (portrayed with unflappable grace and determination by Michelle Yeoh.) Like most westerners, I know her as 'that woman kept under house arrest by the brutal military government of Burma/Myanmar.' I'm ashamed how surprisingly little I knew about the rest of her life. How her father, General Aung San, led the fight for Burmese independence (making her an immediately recognizable leader.) How he and his ministers where assassinated when Suu was only 3. Most embarrassingly, I knew nothing about her husband Michael Aris (David Thewliss, who does a remarkable job as not only Michael but his twin brother Anthony) or her two children Alex (Jonathan Woodhouse) and Kim (Jonathan Raggett.) While her political struggle (which has been going on since 1988 when she returned to take care of her ailing mother and saw the chaos and brutality in the country) is self-evident, and the generals are appropriately evil, it's really her personal ordeal as a wife and mother that is the emotional core of the movie. The moments of joy are the tenuous connections she keeps with her family--the rare visits they are allowed. The phone calls that are always cut off too soon. Listening on the radio as Alex gives a speech accepting the Nobel Prize on her behalf. There's even a heart-wrenching scene (during one of the few in-person visits) where she offers Michael her permission to divorce and start anew with someone else. He has a moving response where he talks about how their struggle for Burmese democracy and civil rights has--far from separating them--been their strongest bond. And, of course, that's a bond that gets horribly tested when Michael is diagnosed with prostate cancer and isn't allowed to visit her (she is given permission to leave the country to visit him, with the understanding that she would never be let back in.)
If there's one shortcoming, it's that the story is unfinished, because her life story is unfinished. So I, for one, am eager to see a sequel. And as long as Michelle Yeoh is starring, she should go back to her Hong Kong action roots and give some generals a roundhouse kick to the head.
THE LADY is slated for a limited release in the US in April.
Running Time: 132 minutes
My Total Minutes: 268,102