The 2011 film, “The Lady”, directed by Luc Besson, is a political drama. Throughout this movie, we follow the journey of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese woman who has deep ties to Burma through her father, General Aung San. The director, Luc Besson, practices auteur theory with his film-making. Auteur theory is a theory of filmmaking in which the director is viewed as the primary creative force in a motion picture; the director, who oversees all audio and visual elements of the motion picture, is more likely to be considered the “author” of the movie than the writer of the screenplay. Besson utilises strong use of symbolism and motif to draw in the audience and force them to understand on a deeper level what he is saying. He also wants the audience to compare the character’s lives in his film to their own.
In the first scene, I will be analysing from the film “The Lady” directed by Luc Besson scene, General Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father is assassinated by military rebels under General U Saw’s order. General Aung San was chosen by the British army to lead Burma through independence but was fiercely opposed by the Myochit (Patriot) Party which was formed by General U Saw in 1938. General U Saw was responsible for conspiring to assassinate General Aung San, and his cabinet members and military rebels in his party were ordered to shoot them at close range in the Secretariat Building, Rangoon, Burma. General U Saw was later executed for his crime on the 8th of May 1948.
The scene opens with a wide shot, showing the vast expanse of the government-official building that General Aung San’s car is heading towards. This wide shot helps to demonstrate the great expanse of people that the General has support from, showing multiple guards standing around outside as the gate to the driveway swings open.
“Good morning!” the General greets everyone cheerfully after he uses both hands to push open both of the double doors. He takes his hat off as a sign of respect to the other men in the room as he enters, this small gesture of taking off his hat shows how he is willing to be viewed as equal to others, rather than an all-powerful leader. In the room is his cabinet members. Military rebels, who do not want to see democracy in their country – preferring the military remain in power – are lurking outside the council room. There is a close-up shot used to show a suspicious looking man wearing a wide-brimmed hat, as he leans against the wall outside.
There is a contrast in the different lighting between these two cuts of the scene; in the cabinet room with the General the lighting and atmosphere is friendly and cheery, with sunlight streaming in through the windows, and smiling faces. When the smoking soldier is shown the light is suddenly very dim and dark, his expression tense and gloomy – this contrast displays the differing goals of the two men (General Aung San and the rebel guard). General Aung Sang wishes to make all people happy and give them the right to do as they please; the rebel wants to take down General Aung San and everything that he believes in, to create a military government for Burma. This contrast helps the audience to understand the intensity of the conflict that these two men are in, and Besson has demonstrated it without using much dialogue at all.
As this man flicks away his cigarette he had been smoking, which shows that he is anxious about what is about to happen, a non-diegetic percussion beat begins quietly in the background. The steadily growing volume of this shaker symbolises the steady increase of the threat to General Aung San’s life. Every few beats of the shaker there is the unmistakable echo of a whiplash in the distance, which shows the viewer that this man with the wide-brimmed hat is a threat and does not belong in this building, which helps the viewer to perceive the tension that is growing. The camera follows the suspicious man as he walks up the stairs with another man in a beret. This difference in costume shows us that there are moles (rebel soldiers) of different rankings within the council building. These two men do not acknowledge each other as they walk up the stairs, but they fall in step instinctively, which reveals to the viewer the fact these two men know each other and have a well set-out plan for what is about to happen. As they reach the top of the stairs a third man, also in a wide-brimmed hat, joins the pair. The trio is shown in a mid shot as they walk down the hallway. This shot establishes how seemingly disregarding and uninterested they are feeling, as their facial expressions do not reveal any visible emotions. As they walk down the hallway, they take out their bright red scarves – bright against the dull green of their uniform – and tie them around their necks. The red scarf is a neckerchief worn by Young Pioneers of several countries during the socialist (“communist”) era. The red is a symbol of the “blood of the people”, a phrase heard commonly in places that have socialist or communist values, for example, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and Vietnam all use the colour red as a significant part of their flags.
“The main priority is to form a government” are the non-diegetic words spoken by General Aung San as the mid-shot shows the three men tying their scarves. This dialogue is purposely timed by the director, Luc Besson, to help show through the use of Auteur’s style that we should question this society’s morality. “The Lady” is a bilingual movie, so at times there are subtitles used to show the non-Burmese viewers what is being said. In this particular line of dialogue displayed through a caption, General Aung San does not name the type of government that needs to be made, so it creates this interesting contrast of two different government types clashing. The communist front represented by the red of the scarves in the frame when the subtitle appears, and the democratic front which implied described by the words of General Aung Sang that arrive through captions. We, therefore, question these rebel’s morality as a viewer, we wonder why they are in the building and wonder what they are about to do.
In the meeting room, General Aung San is raising a toast after declaring “It is essential that the people participate if we are to establish a genuine democracy.” After the word “democracy” is spoken, the rebel leader pushes open the double doors to the cabinet room with both hands – similar in the way to the way General Aung San entered, which once again shows the contrast in the beliefs, values, and goals of these two very different men. This variation is shown due to the fact although the rebel soldier enters the room as General Aung San did, he enters with a very different intention for the people inside. An interesting point is the fact that General Aung San did not ever get an opportunity to drink his toast to democracy, which further pushes the motion of how against a democratic government these rebels are. When the double doors burst open, the scene slows down entirely, dialogue becoming muffled and lethargic. This use of slow motion helps to put the viewer into the shoes of the men inside the room – their minds cannot process fast enough to realise what is happening to them: how did these men get inside? Who are these men? Why is nobody coming to save us? All of these are questions likely to have been going through their minds at the time. Most likely, the reason why these men and General Aung San are not saved before it was too late is that the entire building has been taken over by moles. This theory is further proven by the fact that another fourth guard without a red scarf, holding a gun saw the three men while they walked down the hall toward the meeting room. Instead of making any attempt to advance upon these apparent intruders he turned around silently and walked down the stairs as if he had received a silent signal to go and prepare an escape for the three assassins.
While the slow-motion is still controlling the scene, there is muffled yelling from the rebel leader, his face contorted in anger. A wide-shot is used to show the terrified faces of all of the supporters who are inside the room. General Aung San turns to face the rebels, his face eerily calm. A close-up shot is used to establish the gentle nature of his expression – he has already acknowledged and accepted what is about to happen to him. It is through this acting style that Luc Besson displays his Cinéma du look – he portrays a man who can communicate to the audience his entire being through only his eyes. Eyes are the window to the soul, after all, and the viewer sees a small glimpse of this spirit that belongs to the General flicker in his eyes before they close for the last time. A mid-shot shows the rebel leader raising his pistol and aiming it at the General’s head, yelling something muffled. Eventually, all sound fades out, and a single pan flute takes over all of the noise in the scene. This pan flute creates an ethereal, spiritual atmosphere as the camera zooms in on the General’s unmoving face before he rolls his eyes back and the closes them. The moment his eyes are closed there is a jump cut to a side-on shot of the rebel soldier shooting the General in the head with a loud bang from the pistol. The pan flute is silenced by the firing of the gun. The scene quickly becomes a series of quick, sharp jump cuts, the camera shot changing with the shooting of every rifle as the other two rebel soldiers bring out their machine guns and mow down the line of supporters who are standing around the room. These sharp jump cuts help display how hurried and rushed this assassination is: these men wish to get this done as quickly as possible so that they can flee. Also during the shooting sequence, there is a POV shot from behind the soldiers who are firing. This POV shot can be seen as the viewer’s POV – the audience is watching this all happen and cannot do anything about it through a screen.
Set design is used cleverly by Luc Besson to further paint a picture of the story behind this assassination, as on the wall in the background when the men are being shot down there is a peafowl. The peafowl is one of the national animals of Burma, and is strongly associated with the Konbaung monarchy and the anti-colonial nationalist movements and thus is popularly seen as the symbol of the Burmese state. This symbol represents the firm willpower of General Aung San – he wants to see his country become a democracy, and he does not care if he has to give his own life – the thing of most significant value possible to give to a cause. Another point of interest is the General’s last words: “It is essential that the people participate if we are to establish a genuine democracy.” These words are the last spoken by the General before he is assassinated. In medieval English courts, the principle originated of Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentiri — “no-one on the point of death should be presumed to be lying.” This fact further shows how determined the General is to gain rights for the people of his country. He was not, and never will be considered to have been lying about his dedication to his country – which is something that cannot be said about the current ruling dictatorial government.
After the rebel soldiers have mown down everybody in the room with their machine guns, the first rebel goes back and in a series of very sharp, harsh jump cuts between his contorted face and the pistol, as he shoots the General another five times, which makes for six shots in total. The number six can be associated with a higher evil. According to the last book in the Bible, 666 is the number, or name, of the wild beast with seven heads and ten horns that comes out of the sea. This use of the number six could potentially symbolise the greater evil inside these three men, which makes sense, as a person would have to be genuinely dark and twisted inside to commit such a crime against another human, especially a man who had done nothing to deserve death.
After these final gunshots ring out, the three rebels flee the room. A birds-eye shot shows the room from the ceiling. This shot is used to establish the chaos that has just taken over this small place. In the centre of the scene is General Aung San in a pool of his blood – also showing the rebel’s sincere belief in their communist ways: “blood of the people.” The pan flute returns, bringing a spiritual vibe with it. The pan flute can be viewed as a symbol for General Aung San’s soul escaping and morphing into a martyr, as it only returns when the rebel soldiers have left the room. General Aung San’s spirit returns because he has not finished what destiny has set out for him – he has not yet succeeded in making Burma into a democratic country.
This entire scene within itself is a representation of Auteur theory through Luc Besson’s directing. We see a man who is seemingly good at heart, with a desire to give everyone their rights and freedom, who is fatally shot. This concept, therefore, shows us the conflict between principal characters and the world in which they live. It also shows us another concept of Auteur theory – the fact that these rebel soldiers are so dedicated to their assignment of assassinating the General shows us that those in authority are “portrayed as ruthless but dedicated to their task.” Another detail in this first scene that reflects Luc Besson’s Auteur style is the fact that General Aung San has proved himself such a threat to these men that they feel the need to rid the world of him. General Aung San is a direct contrast to the dysfunctional authorities the world he lives in, which is portrayed by Luc Besson in this particular assassination scene.
The next scene I will be analysing from Luc Besson’s 2011 film “The Lady” is a scene based at Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLFD Rally. Aung San Suu Kyi is the leading character in this movie, a woman with thick, meaningful family ties to the country of Burma. The youngest daughter of Aung San, Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar, and Khin Kyi, Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon, British Burma. After graduating from the University of Delhi in 1964 and the University of Oxford in 1968, she worked at the United Nations for three years. She married Michael Aris in 1972 and gave birth to two children. Aung San Suu Kyi rose to prominence in the 1988 Uprisings and became the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
In the opening of this scene, a mid-shot is used to show the audience a bright red banner that reads “National League For Democracy”. The camera then moves out to a wide-shot which demonstrates the large number of people who are helping to set up for this rally by Aung San Suu Kyi. The audience can immediately see that, due to the number of individuals who are already present merely to set up the rally, that this woman has lots of support behind her. A close-up shot of a poster with Suu’s face upon it further proves this concept of high authority – Aung San Suu Kyi is becoming a symbol of hope for the people of Burma, especially seeing as her ideas and values contrast so harshly with the current leader of Burma, General Ne Win. Ne Win was a Burmese politician and military commander. He was Prime Minister of Burma from 1958 to 1960 and 1962 to 1974 and also head of state from 1962 to 1981. His beliefs are dictatorial, stemming from the communist belief that all should remain equal – with one leader that reigns above all else. In contrast, Aung San Suu Kyi wishes to implement a democratic government, with equal rights, and voices for all – she wants to give the people of Burma a voice. It is through this strong belief that we can link Aung San Suu Kyi to her father, who declared “It is essential that the people participate if we are to establish a genuine democracy.”
Set design is used carefully by Luc Besson in this scene. The NLFD rally shall be fixed in a deprived marketplace – this is established by the run-down look, feel, and quality of the buildings that surround the rickety shack that the rally is to be held in. As the people continue setting up the rally, it becomes evident that these villagers want the very best they have for Aung San Suu Kyi. The seats they set up don’t all match, and there isn’t a significant number of them – but there is an aura of pride in what they are doing for this woman, which is to be their saviour. Even so, Aung San Suu Kyi does not need nor require a fancy setup to give her voice. She speaks for the people, she does not need nor wants a large stage. By the way is it set up, this rally is going to be very close and intimate with her supporters – as they are the only thing that matters to her. Luc Besson’s Auteur style is demonstrated through this setup, as in Auteur theory settings are often extreme and outside the experience of most. This environment is one that we, as a Western-based viewer, cannot even begin to understand. We do not know what it is like to have a government that aims to control everything we do and own, implementing control through violence in some cases – therefore Luc Besson does his very best to use his stylistic technique to portray what it is like for the people living in this period and setting.
As the scene continues, there is a jeep that pulls up – shown in a POV shot. In this vehicle is a multitude of men dressed in dark green army uniforms, with wide-brimmed hats. It is in this way that Luc Besson uses costume to show the audience that these men are not supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi, as they have bright red bands wrapped around their biceps. This red is a symbol of communism, therefore, a symbol of General Ne Win, who is the principal opposing force of Aung San Suu Kyi.
“No public meetings allowed! Go back home!” One of the men yells at the people setting up the rally. The soldiers are shown in a POV shot as they quickly advance upon the scene. This POV shot establishes how the people cannot make any move against the guards, all they can do is stand and watch helplessly, as the guards go about ripping down all of the carefully hanging decorations. These decorations include the full red banner that reads “National League For Democracy” which is ripped down in the same camera mid-shot as the one it was first shown to the audience with. This disrespect to the people of Burma further shows how little value these guards have for the individual opinions and views that are not in alignment with that of the state. Luc Besson’s stylistic technique is shown, seeing as the principal/main character is a direct contrast to the dysfunctional authorities in their environment.
From the moment these guards arrive on the scene there are non-diegetic low tones from a synthesiser used to establish tension within the scene, with intermittent higher-pitched sounds to make the audience uncomfortable, and therefore aware of the fact that these men do not bring good omens. As Aung San Suu Kyi is shown walking up to her alleyway, there are steady drum beats to push the tension further – to make it seem like Suu’s life in danger. Another point of the mid-shot where Suu is shown walking toward the soldiers, shaking supporters’ hands, there is light shining from behind her – as if she had just come from some heavenly place and is now approaching the dark environment which is controlled by the communist officers.
Intermit POV shots of the guards clearing up the rally, a POV shot is used to show Aung San Suu Kyi, as she walks down a dust-ridden path, shaking hands with every single person who came to see her. This POV shot change represents how the villagers who want to stop the guards but cannot, look to Suu Kyi for guidance and assistance in this scary time.
Suu is adorned with flowers of many varieties, most likely the yellow flowers of padauk, and the white flowers of the thazin orchid, which are both national symbols of Burma, which means anyone wearing them is of great importance to the well-being of the country. This is a way in which Luc Besson portrays his Cinéma du look – as he is a director who favours style over substance, and spectacle over narrative. Besson is a creator of films that have a slick, gorgeous visual form, which is portrayed by the beautiful contrast of the yellow and white flowers that Suu wears upon her body. She is a voice for the people, and her costuming conveys that. Besson dresses her in beautiful, vivid colours so that the audience can see how Suu is a goddess in the eyes of the people of Burma. She is an influential, powerful, independent woman, and Besson shows that through his use of bright colour. Her clothes are that of any other commoner in the village – all that sets her apart is the flowers she has been gifted. She also wears no makeup, which symbolises she does not put on any mask to speak to her supporters. She is genuine and natural in the way she presents herself, which is most likely why she is so likeable for those who are in more deprived circumstances – as she shows you do not need to be wealthy or powerful to have your voice and use it.
A mid-shot is used to show the commanding officer as he yells in Burmese, making harsh hand gestures to get all of his soldiers into a formation, standing either side of him with their guns in their hands. All of these men also wear red neckties, which links this scene to the first scene analysed with General Aung San’s assassinations. History repeats itself in this scene. The next mid-shot is used to show Suu as she is told by a worried-looking villager to look ahead, and Suu’s expression continues to have a steely calmness about it, but she continues to walk forward although the audience can tell she is wary. The commanding officer yells a command in Burmese once again” “Prepare to fire!”, And a side-on shot is used to show all of the men raise their guns in a synchronised fashion, with the eerie sound of guns clicking and being loaded. A point of interest is that none of the men holding guns are looking directly forward at Suu, their gaze is down, or avoiding looking at her. It’s almost as if these people are unsure of what they are doing there – especially after seeing how many supporters who have turned up to see Suu Kyi speak. Low tones play to create an atmosphere of tension as Suu’s supporters look to her for guidance. What will she do? They wonder silently, obviously unable to decide for themselves at this time. Run? Or trust Lady Suu?
“We will continue in a calm and orderly fashion,” Suu decides softly, a mid-shot showing her calm and relaxed features as she does not look to her supporters but instead at the men with guns lined up in front of her. Suu is aware these men are a threat, but not to her – to her people, and because she speaks for these people, she will also protect them. “Wait here first.” She gently tells the worried looking men around her. This quote is another point of interest – in this mid-shot she is the only woman shown, which three or more worried looking men around her, looking to her for guidance. This action illustrates to the audience that she is a strong woman, one who does not need validation from men or other people – she is strong enough to validate and make her own decisions. This behaviour shows another of Luc Besson’s stylistic techniques, as Suu does not fit comfortably into the conformist (an accepted or established way of doing things) society that is the experience of the majority of citizens. She is not a quiet and submissive woman who does the bidding of others; she is the complete opposite. This choice is a style implemented in a majority of Luc Besson’s films, and this one is no exception. Aung San Suu Kyi begins to walk forward, towards the men. She is shown in a mid-shot, her face remaining quiet and calm. The camera shot flicks from Suu to the lined up soldiers, with the commanding officer in the middle.
“Stop right there, or we will shoot!” the lead officer yells as Suu continues to walk forward. The scene slows down, and slow motion is implemented. It is at this point the audience begins to get a sense of deja vu – this has happened before. The audience is right; this has happened before. The first scene I analysed which included the assassination of General Aun Sang – Suu’s father – there is slow motion implemented in the scene before his death also. It is by linking this scene to one that happened earlier that Luc Besson establishes a substantial threat on Suu’s life that hangs above her at this moment. The audience now knows that it is possible for this scene to end as Suu’s fathers did. Her face conveys close to no extremity of emotion, and as she takes another slow step forward – due to the slow motion – all noise fades out and is replaced by a lone pan flute. This use of pan flute solidifies the connection between this scene and the scene of General Aung San’s assassination. There are wind-chime-like tinkles underneath the main sound of the pan flute, creating a whimsical, ethereal atmosphere as Aung San Suu Kyi continues to move towards the men, undeterred by the gun barrels in her face. A side-on shot is used to show how Suu walks between the barrels, and the soldiers make no outward attempt to stop her. This establishes the fact that the guns are not present for Suu, as she is not a threat to General Ne Win by herself – the real threat that the government are concerned about is a large number of Suu’s supporters. This reason is why the guns remain pointed at the fans who stay behind Aung San Suu Kyi, watching, as she walks forward.
As the commanding officer sees she has walked through the line of guards without being fazed, he fumbles for his pistol and points it at her. Her face, shown in a mid-shot, is still eerily calm, her eyes showing her fearlessness. The pan flute still dominates the soundtrack of the scene, getting louder and louder with each step she takes towards the officer with the pistol. The line of soldiers behind the commander seems to hesitate a moment, before also raising their guns to point at her in a synchronised fashion. The volume of the pan flute could symbolise the return of the spirit of General Aung San to protect his daughter from harm. These actions show one of the leading theme ideas from Luc Besson’s stylistic techniques; there is a conflict between principal characters and the world in which they live. Suu is not welcome anywhere she goes, and the entire world seems to be against her. The audience sees this and immediately, due to human nature valuing triumph above most things, take her ‘side’ of things She does not let this bother her though, as she knows deep down that her father will be there to protect her in both life and death if anything were to happen to her.
“Three!” The lead officer begins to count down, his hand shaking as he struggles to hold his pistol steady. He is obviously nervous under Suu’s unblinking stare as she stops in front of the line of men. Why is she not frightened? The soldiers must ask themselves, Where is her fear? The truth is, what comes with the presence of the pan flute in the background, is also the presence of Suu’s father, General Aung San. Suu knows deep down that nothing will happen unless destiny calls for it, and she has not yet fulfilled her destiny of leading the country of Burma to a democratic government, and her father’s spirit will help guide her there safely.
“Two!” As he yells another number, his hand begins to shake more, as Suu is not making any move to run from the scene. This lack of movement from her scares him – who is this woman? Why does she not shy from danger? The commanding officer is beginning to worry that he has made a mistake by advancing upon this woman’s rally. As the camera shot switches to a close-up shot of Suu’s face the pan flute fades out a little, and you can see an extremely faint smile resting upon her lips as she tilts her head slightly. Her eyes then roll back into her head as she closes her eyes. This is another smart way in which Luc Besson has utilised his film-making skills to link one scene to another, once again showing the connection between Suu and her father by showing they both are very quick to put their lives into Destiny’s hands when in danger. General Aung San also closes his eyes before he is shot by a rebel soldier, just as Suu is doing now. The film techniques of flashback are then used as a moving close-up image of General Aung San’s face just before he was killed, fills the entire screen, and he too closes his eyes.
“Stop! Let them go! We’re pulling out!” A higher-commanding officer yells from the jeep, standing up to gain attention. The use of General Aung San’s face in this scene can be seen as a representation of the officer’s thought pattern. When the camera is focused only on Suu, he is just thinking of Suu, and then when she closes her eyes, an image of her father pops up in the officer’s brain. He remembers what happened the last time a member of this family was killed. They became a martyr, a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs, and therefore a symbol of hope for the people of Burma who still wanted a democratic way of life even after the end of General Aung San’s. The last thing the government wants at this time is another martyr to further push the Democratic Party’s supporters to rebel and knock down the dictatorship which is in the current rule. Authorities in Luc Besson films are often dysfunctional and ineffective and go through the same motions every day.
As the camera shot switches from a mid-shot of the commander in the jeep, to a mid-shot of Suu, you can see she is almost snapped out of a trance. This can be viewed by the audience as Suu being practically possessed by the spirit of her dead father – which is proven through the strange change in behaviour Suu seems to have when she first sees the guns. She approaches the situation calmly and closes her eyes in front of a loaded weapon just as her father did. This shows the viewer that General Aung San is never really gone; he is ever-present in the heart and mind of Aung San Suu Kyi. The spirits of Suu’s ancestors live on inside her, which help to give her the strength to conquer and lead the country of Burma to a democratic victory.