EXCLUSIVE: The Oscar race just got a little more interesting. EuropaCorp has made a U.S. distribution deal with Cohen Media Group for the Luc Besson-directed The Lady, the story of Burmese pro-democracy activist and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. Upstart Cohen Media Group plans to release the film for an Oscar-qualifying platform release late this year to capitalize on strong performances by Michelle Yeoh, who plays Suu Kyi, and David Thewlis, who plays her Oxford professor husband Michael Aris. The film will get a wider release in early 2012. Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest by the repressive Burmese military-controlled government. Leaders cruelly barred her husband and two sons from visiting her, thinking that it would drive her to leave. Because she knew that once gone she would never be permitted re-entry, Suu Kyi sacrificed everything to stay and become an iconic symbol of democracy and human rights. Her husband and sons bolstered her spirit and campaigned for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded in 1991. The distribution deals came quickly after the film premiered Monday evening at Roy Thomson Hall, where Besson, Yeoh and Thewlis received a rousing standing ovation. The deal was brokered by EuropaCorp Group CEO Christophe Lambert and Cohen Media Group CEO Charles S. Cohen.
The Lady becomes the second Toronto title to become an instant entry into upcoming awards season, after Fox Searchlight acquired the NC-17 Steve McQueen-directed Shame with plans to campaign for Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.
After establishing himself as France’s answer to Steven Spielberg directing hits like La Femme Nikita and The Professional and co-writing and producing action films like Taken, Besson has become very selective in the projects he directs. While he has always had a soft spot for strong female protagonists, it has always been in action settings. The Lady is a decided departure and certainly his most personal film to date. Besson made it to refocus the world’s attention on an activist whose continuing plight gets easily forgotten in a turbulent world, even though she won that Nobel Peace Prize and U2’s Bono and The Edge wrote the song Walk On about her sacrifice (which got U2’s album banned in Burma). (more…)