Luc Besson depicts the years Aung San Suu Kyi spent in house arrest in The Lady
Nikita, Leeloo, Joan of Arc, Adèle Blanc-Sec, Aung San Suu Kyi: Whether they’re fictional or real, female heroes are omnipresent in the world of Luc Besson. "In movies, we often give great roles to men and less so to women. I think I’m a fair director. We always talk about the stronger sex and the weaker sex; me, I’m interested in the strengths of the weaker sex and the weaknesses of the stronger sex."
For the first time in his career, it was an actress, Michelle Yeoh, who offered him a project – to tell the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese activist opposed to the military dictatorship in her country. "I felt invested with a mission," remembers the French filmmaker over the phone. "There was no hope, when we began filming, to ever see her free. She had been detained in her house for 11 years, we had no way to contact her, she was under a very, very tough military regime. We had a mission to be honest, to try to respect the truth without having access to it. We had to constantly be vigilant."
Despite the political role occupied since the end of the 1980s by Suu Kyi, who was released during the shoot, The Lady mostly focuses on her personal life. "It’s a great love story first and foremost. We know Aung San Suu Kyi as a political leader, a strong and rather tough woman, but few people know how she became the woman that she is today. What interested me was to understand her emotionally."
A climate of violence surrounded the one called The Lady by her fellow citizens while she was under house arrest, but little of it is shown in the film. "It hasn’t been toned down," assures Besson. "What mattered to me was showing that the Burmese junta was violent, so it can be seen in a few scenes. But the film is really about Aung San Suu Kyi, so we didn’t have to overdo it. Otherwise we would have risked being accused of partisanship. We had to find the right balance."
The filming of The Lady, which took place in England and Thailand, wasn’t a holiday for Besson and his crew. "During the shoot, I was convinced that one day or another, we’d learn she had died. At the same time, I think she’s immortal, like her father [General Aung San]. It’s good that we made the film, which is circulating around the world and holds the record for piracy in Burma."