“The Lady” is a drama and biography movie of Aung San Suu Kyi as she becomes the core of Burma’s democracy movement against an established dictatorship. The Film is set mainly Burma, which is located in Southeastern Asia. It is directed by Luc Besson, which has some particular styles and film technics that creates meanings for the scenes that will be further analyzed. This director is highly influenced by the French film movement of the 1980s called Cinéma du look, which means that who follows this style uses the visual technics in favor over the narrative to tell a story.
Assassination of the General Aung San
The first scene to be analyzed is the assassination of the General Aung San, that was set in Rangoon (capital city of Burma), on 19th of July 1947. The General had a major role in the history of Burma (modern-day Myanmar), he is, in fact, considered to be the Father of this Nation. After World War Two, Aung San was responsible for bringing Burma’s independence from British rule and create the path for democracy, but he was assassinated six months before this could effectively happen. His popularity and political orientations were threatening others ambitions for the country, provoking a coup in which he was murdered. The leader of the country was shot while holding a meeting of the Executive Council along with six of his cabinet ministers, by military rebels, under General U Saw’s order, a former Prime minister. The assassins were never caught but the U Saw was judged and executed for his crime in the following year.
The film starts with Aung San speaking with his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, interpreted by Michelle Yeoh, which is the major character in the movie in the age of an adult, but at this time she was only two. The General is telling her about the great past of Burma because of its nationals natural treasures, however, he states that “Soldiers from a faraway land came and stole all our precious things, that is how the country became so poor.” Luc Besson included this scene before the assassination to create the context; it is vital as it shows the close bond between father and daughter, demonstrates the political views of the General and therefore provokes more empathy with the viewer. This aspect is significant for the entire plot because the admiration of the Burmese people with the “Bogyoke” (which means Major General, an affectionate name for Aung Sang), which made the rapid ascent of Suu Kyi possible. So, through this background showed in the previous scene, the director attempts to make the viewer admire this character by understanding why this brave and charming leader is so idolized by his people. This portrait of the death of Aung Sang also shows to the audience the democratic view that the director supports, as a heroic aspect is created to show that the General was about to guide Burma to “right” path, by transforming the country into a democracy which would give freedom and autonomy to these people that were under British rule for decades and prevent that a military system took over power.
The scene that I am going to be analyzing starts with a long shot of Aung San’s black car, this color is usually associated with death on different occasions, as generally black cars are used in funerals, this technic could foreshadow his assassination for the viewer. The vehicle is leaving the Generals residency and going the Secretariat Building in downtown Rangoon. With the use of a long shot that contains the landscape, the director enables us to see the setting through the streets of Rangoon. Also, with this shot when the viewer can see the contrast between the government building, which is heavily guarded by the military, and the simple way of life of the ordinary citizens, like the two monks walking on the pavement, demonstrating the presence of the Buddhist culture in Burma. This contrast shows the power and influence of the military over this society in a non-democratic country.
After this, the director chose to use a close-up shot at the back of Aung Sang’s head, as he is going to enter the meeting room. The General makes his way to the council chamber to discuss with his ministers about the future of the country for the path of democracy. The close-up shot at his back continues as the Prime Minister quickly starts to speak with his executive council, he takes his military hat off and bows to greet everyone in the room, showing his simplicity and mutual respect. While Aung Sang is speaking, the director chose another close-up shot, but now it is directed at his face with an eye-level angle, as this shows better his emotions and puts the audience on “an equal footing with the character.” This reinforces the empathy with the General making the viewer to admire his thoughts about freedom of choice to elect the leader of the country and trust his ideas about democracy. At the same time, we are shown his assassination plan being orderly orchestrated, in this way the director is revealing to the viewer the corrupt society in which the main character is immersed into. Until this point, only diegetic sounds were used in order to show the real aspect of the life in Rangoon, such as the noise of the car, of the streets and the dialogues.
The action to assassinate the General starts with a close-up shot of an official looking nervous; we can notice that by looking at his wet hairs and neck due to his sweating, as he is smoking a cigarette trying to calm down. From this point on, the director chooses significant non-diegetic sounds to bring the viewer closer to what is happening as this technic creates a tense atmosphere for who is watching. This soldier throws the cigarette on the ground and looks attentively to the sides to see if anyone is watching his moves, and then starts walking to meet with other two guards also involved in the coup. Is important to notice that the military costumes of these three rebels are different, as they use a different style of color and hats, this demonstrates the corruption in this system which goes to different ranks. The first one officer to join him comes through the dark; the director chose this lighting to show this mysterious and “bad side” as the viewer doesn’t know what is going to happen but Luc Besson is slowly revealing. After this, we get a series of mid-shots of the two rebels walking up a staircase, at the top another guard joins them. This last soldier is revealed with mid shot from his back, we can quickly notice a significant difference in his costume, as through this shot red triangle scarf around his neck draws attention. By analyzing the context, we can see that this scarf symbolizes the communism in a dictatorship since this neckerchief is worn in several countries during the socialist era, like the Soviet Union, in Vietnam, in China, and in Cuba. The vibrant red, which is also present in the communist, represents the blood of the people serving or being sacrificed in favor of the collective. The director chose this aspect of the costume to indicate that the country would turn into a strong dictatorship a few years later because of this assassination. This is actually what the plot is developing itself around, a fight of the democracy and freedom against the nature of dictatorship.
At this point they start walking together towards the meeting room, the director chose to use a three-mid shot that shows not only the emotions of the three guards but also their actions, as they seemed focused and determined with the plan. Although this shot was particularly important to highlight the middle officer putting the red bandana, at the same point the light gets darker in his face. As soon as they do this, the officer that was guarding the door leaves, because he knew that a homicide was about to happen and would not risk his life. It is intriguing to the viewer the fact that they never said a word with each other. The director chooses to not include a dialogue between them to demonstrate how well this crime was planned and the intensity of the corruption, as in this way the rebels are portraited to be eviler because people lose some of their humanity without the communication. This aspect can also be related to Luc Besson auteur style because it shows the rebels as dysfunctional villains who think they are doing the right thing and “playing the part of protectors of society.” However, in reality, the rebels are blind faith with the communist ideas, they were killing an innocent person that was leading the country for a more peaceful path.
In this next shot, the camera is put into the meeting room, and slow motion is used as the rebels enter the room with angry faces, while the Executive Council was celebrating the deal with admiring faces towards the general. Then the middle military screams and points his gun, the sound of rattle and drums that have been building up since the beginning of the coup suddenly stops. From this point, non-diegetic sounds are used, with a pan flute playing softly as the general slowly looks back with a peaceful and serenity face, although his cabinet members in the room are all scared, screaming and trying to hide behind objects. We get an over the shoulder view of the rebels arm, which is almost the viewer point of view as if he was there when it happened, the soldier pointing the gun to Aung Sans head and slowing walking towards him until it almost touches his face. The director carefully chooses close-up shots swapping between the face of the gun man and Aung sang, showing the contrast between a peaceful mind and the angry face of the rebel. The General slowly closes his eyes, in a way that he knew and was accepting his fate, this attitude can be a reflection of the Buddhism style of not reacting to violence. The verbal technic in this scene is quite necessary, as there is no dialogue which is an aspect of the Cinema du look style, the pan flute that is playing in the background is a common Asian instrument used for Buddhist meditation. This technic shows Luc Besson Auter style characteristics in which the main characters, that in this scene is Aung San, experiences personal growth and development of spirit, is almost that he has reached the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. The director also reveals another of his characteristics as he uses this scene to show the maintenance of the integrity of the main character in a corrupt world just before his death, this reinforces Aung San heroic status as the general by bringing bigger clarity for his country.
The calm sound of pan flute is abruptly stopped with the diegetic sound of the gun shooting. All the members in the room are shot dead; this is showed buy long or mid shots of them being shoot down and close up of the face of the killers and the fire coming from the guns. After this massacre, the middle guy still reloads the gun and shoots in the dead body of Aung Sang, this is shown by close-ups of him holding the gun and the leg of the dead body moving because of the impact of the bullet. The scene finishes with a full shot that contains a complete view of the dead characters, viewers are able to see the blood spread everywhere in the room, demonstrating the blood of the people in sacrifice for the communism. The camera is put into a high angle, which is a shot from the above which shows the vulnerability of the characters. This scene shows the Cinema du look style of Luc Besson characteristic due to the intense and brutal way that this massacre is portraited by the fire shooting. Also with the use of close-up shots to the face of the characters that demonstrates better their emotions than any possible dialogue and because of the impact of this act on the Burmese future, as due to the coup the country could not turn into a democracy. The purpose of the director to choose this technic over the ordinary way of telling a story by explanatory dialogues is because the viewer can be more interested and shocked with visual aspects in the scenes presented, therefore causing a bigger impact on who is watching so they can better remember it.
After the scene, we have a significant shot of Aung Suu Kyi sleeping in the chair that the father had left her just before he went to the government building, without knowing what the future would hold for her and the responsibility she would carry. Aung San is still widely admired by the Burmese people, and he is one of the reasons that made it possible the political ascent of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.
The military confronts Aung San Suu Kyi at an NLFD rally.
The second scene happens during one campaign trip of Aung San Suu Kyi when she “narrowly escaped being shot” while campaigning in the province of a Danubyu in Burma. This set appears to be market place in a remote village. The scene is about a group of soldiers that tried to ambush Suu Kyi in order to sabotage her campaign for the democratic elections. The group was waiting for them at a stage where she would make a speech; their rifles were aimed and ready to fire. As Suu Kyi walked forward the first line of soldiers, the guy in command starts a countdown. Her followers stood back while she walked forward alone. At the last moment, the commanding officer ordered his men to put down their guns. The scene that follows shows this story spreading through the streets of Burma by word of mouth, Aung San Suu Kyi became even more iconic, and the civilians started to ridiculized the government. This event, resulted in the guard that gave the other to shoot being shot by General Ne Win, because according to him “When her father (Aung Sang) was killed, he became a great martyr. We can’t risk his daughter becoming one, too.”
This scene happens just after Aung San Suu Kyi’s mom passed away after suffering a stroke, Khin Kyi died in Rangoon on 28 December 1988, at the age of 76, and her fragile health was actually the reason that Suu Kyi decided to return to Burma. Although now she was involved in a much bigger purpose, which was to complete her father’s ambition of introducing the democracy to the country. In fact, the close connection with her father is showed to the viewer also by the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi carries her father’s name. In Burmese culture, there is no family name, only a personal one and now Suu Kyi was continuing his legacy, by leading the pro-democracy movement first initiated by Aung Sang. Because of this, she presented a threat to the established dictatorship, so after the death of Khin Kyi, Dictator Ne Win sends his officials to Suu Kyi’s house to request her to leave. They claimed that “her duty in the country was completed,” she refuses because in her words: “there was an election to be fought.” Aware of her decision to stay, General Ne Win decides to put even more pressure on her, using the military trucks to intervene and try to prevent public gathering so she could not campaign.
The scene starts with her supporters setting up the place where she was expected to make a speech. This space is shown by a mid shot which includes the National League for Democracy’s (NLFD) party banner, colored red with white text, supporters preparing the microphone and a close-up shot of a painted portrait of her being hung up on the wall. However, the military arrives and orders it to everything be taken down claiming that public meetings are not allowed. A jeep pulls up and a significant amount of soldiers tries to prevent the gathering by taking out of the preparation and as soon as one of the officials in command sees her coming from a distance he screams and order and the soldiers all line up with loaded rifles ready to fire. This is a mid shot, and the military officer is portraited aggressively and desperate, this camera shot allows us to see this through his facials expressions and also his actions in commanding his subordinates quickly to stand in front of him. The Luc Besson auteur style is shown by the fact that most of the dialogue at the beginning of this scene happens in the Burmese language without any subtitles. This demonstrates the aspect of cinema du look because it tells the story by the images, is not necessary to understand what they are saying because the images are the ones that transmit the important message about the totalitarian aspect of a dictatorship. There is also an exaggeration over the operation of stopping Aung San Suu Kye to make a speech, as the authorities need a significant amount of soldiers, which are heavily armed to protect themselves from a defenseless woman, which shows the dysfunctional aspect of the villains in Luc Besson’s movies. The red scarfs are also shown in the costume of every military officer in this scene, although there is no particular shot trying to highlight this detail in the soldier’s outfit, this shows how strong is the aspect of communism in this society which is related to the oppression that the people in this country suffer.
While the military this time is doing everything they can to stop the gathering, Aung Sang Suu Kyi appears in a long shot; this enables us to see the actions of the characters and the setting of the scene, which seems to be a little market in a village with a crowd of supporters following her. The light is particularly important in this shot because she comes from the natural lighting of the sun, even causing an over exposure in the camera, which creates kind of heavenly atmosphere for the viewer, symbolizing the bringing of hope and democracy. This aspect is also part of Luc Besson auteur style because usually in his films the main character brings greater clarity to their environment, and Suu Kyi in this scene is showing to her people that Burma needs a change as she is leading the country for a democratic government. However, seconds later Suu Kyi enters in a shadow place, caused by the tent roofs, which could express her entering where the dictatorship still rules and have the power of influence. In this shot, there is also diegetic sounds of people clapping and speaking to her; she is dressed in a traditional way in Burma, carrying flowers in her head and around her neck. These flowers in the Buddhist culture symbolizes purity, longevity, and prosperity, but they also have a special meaning for her because of her father Aung San, in his last act of love, puts a flower behind Aung Sang Suu Kyi ear when she was just a child. So, Suu has carried this accessory in her head since, in a way it shows to the viewer that she will never forget the sacrifice of her father and will continue his legacy.
When Suu starts walking towards the gun there are no diegetic sounds anymore, everything is in slow motion, there is a sound effect of a synthesizer, and with low sounds that represent danger, the director also uses this verbal technic with the purpose to draw the viewer’s attention. There is a continuous swap between two cameras focus, one directed to the officials that seem worried and the other in the heroic Suu Kyi, when she gets closer to where the speech was going to be made the central official give says to other soldiers to “prepare to fire.” In this part, we have a dialogue with one her most influential supporters, who advises her to go back and do it another day, but she insists and continues to walk, saying “Just ignore them. We will continue in a calm and orderly fashion”. This is exactly what Suu does, although she looks calm, her followers look worried and this two different reactions reveals to the audience another character aspect of Luc Besson Auteur style, as in his films the protagonist usually is noticed by the viewer because they do not fit or accept the society that they live in. In this case, Suu Kyi does not fit in the dictatorship due to the different values that she has regarding the freedom of choice of the people, so she fights for the Burmese people against their corrupt and opressing government.
In the next part of the scene, Aung Sang Suu Kyi crosses the first barrier of soldiers like a spirit because they don’t even seem to notice her, looking towards the ground showing to the viewer that they might not agree with what they have being ordered to do. However, the principal officer points a hand gun at her face in the same way that the assassination of Aung Sang happened. At this point, the director chooses to use a flashback, which is important to highlight the connection between the two scenes, so the viewer can identify more easily the relation of when her father was shot. Also due to this association, the audience is inclined to believe that the same will happen with Suu Kyi. After she gets close to the soldiers, the non-diegetic continues as drums in the background and the pan flute sound builds up the tension for the viewer. Suu Kyi then closes her eyes the same way that his father did when he was assassinated 30 years before. The scene reaches its climax with the countdown of the main soldier to shoot, and we have the close up of one of her followers that is not able to look what is about to happen. This Suu Kyi’s supporter puts his hands on the face signifying he does not know what to, wondering that this will be the ending of their hope for democracy in the new future. Then the sounds are abruptly stopped again, and there is suddenly silence, with the actual officer in command, that remained sitting in the jeep, breaking it by ordering people to leave her alone. “Stop! Let them out! We’re pulling out.” The main officer with the gun promptly obeys and puts his gun down as her followers move quickly to approach her as she looks exhausted with sweat in her back. In this part have a close shot at Suu Kyi face to show her courage, determination, and serenity coming towards the principal officer, while he immediately starts to get desperate and points out his gun. We can see that by looking at his nervous hands shaking the gun significantly and his gritting teeth with a worried face and starts a countdown. The soldier is screaming, but we cannot hear anything because there are just non-diegetic sounds, reinforcing Luc Besson Cinema du look style as he uses the visual technics to impact more the viewer with what the officer could say, it also gives more freedom to the audience as they are able to make their own assumptions about what is happening. Again we have the contrast showed in the first scene, the office which has the gun and theoretically the power is the one that looks nervous, but due to Luc Besson auteur style, they are dysfunctional because even being the ones with power, they are not in control of the situation.
In this part of the scene, we have a close shot at Suu Kyi face to show her courage, determination, and serenity coming towards the principal officer, while he immediately starts to get desperate and points out his gun. We can see that by looking at his nervous hands shaking the gun significantly and his gritting teeth with a worried face and starts a countdown. The soldier is screaming, but we cannot hear anything because there are just non-diegetic sounds. All these aspects reinforce Luc Besson Cinema du look style as he uses the visual technics to impact more the viewer with what the officer could say, it also gives more freedom to the audience as they are able to make their own assumptions about what is happening. Again we have the contrast showed in the first scene, the office which has the gun and theoretically the power is the one that looks nervous, but due to Luc Besson auteur style, they are dysfunctional because even being the ones with power, they are not in control of the situation. Suu Kyi way of fighting the government is Influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and also because of her Buddhist ways. Aung San Suu Kyi entered politics to work for democratization, and there was no way that she could achieve that if she was using brutal force, as the dictatorship would always have the edge over her.