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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

R  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  5 February 1988 (USA)
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Reviews: 132 user | 50 critic

In 1968, a Czech doctor with an active sex life meets a woman who wants monogamy, and then the Soviet invasion further disrupts their lives.



(novel), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 7 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
The Ambassador
Pavel Landovský ...
Chief Surgeon
Interior Ministry Official
The Engineer
Tomasz Borkowy ...
Jiri (as Tomek Bork)
Bruce Myers ...
Czech Editor
Pavel Slabý ...
Pavel's Nephew
Pascale Kalensky ...
Nurse Katja
Jacques Ciron ...
Swiss Restaurant Manager
Anne Lonnberg ...
Swiss Photographer


Tomas is a doctor and a lady-killer in 1960s Czechoslovakia, an apolitical man who is struck with love for the bookish country girl Tereza; his more sophisticated sometime lover Sabina eventually accepts their relationship and the two women form an electric friendship. The three are caught up in the events of the Prague Spring (1968), until the Soviet tanks crush the non-violent rebels; their illusions are shattered and their lives change forever. Written by Dan Hartung <dhartung@mcs.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A Lovers Story.


Drama | Romance


R | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

5 February 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La insoportable levedad del ser  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$17,000,000 (estimated)


$10,006,806 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


According to Lena Olin, she met co-star Daniel Day-Lewis on her first day on the set and, according to the schedule, had to do one of the film's most intense nude love scenes with him that very day. See more »


During Sabina's final monologue at the end of the film, Lena Olin's Swedish accent is quite noticeable. See more »


[first lines]
First Title Card: In Prague, in 1968, there lived a young doctor named Tomas...
Tomas: Take off your clothes.
[line recurs several times during film]
See more »


Referenced in Kicking and Screaming (1995) See more »

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User Reviews

One of the finest works of the '80s.
4 November 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Using the Prague Spring of 1968 as a backdrop, The Unbearable Lightness of Being weaves a story of three very real artists and their journey through love, sex and revolution. The film begins by introducing us to Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) a very charming womanizer and very intelligent, political doctor. Through all of his one night stands and emotionless sexual encounters, he only has one real lover; Sabina (Lena Olin) is a seductive, carefree artist. When Tomas gets a call to perform an operation in a spa town, he meets the woman of his dreams; Tereza (Juliette Binoche) the shy waitress who dreams of leaving her dull, unchallenging life and heading to a place with intellectuals. When Tomas heads back to Prague, she shows up at his door and they quickly move in together.

This move changes his life completely. He no longer has numerous flings and one night stands, but instead only makes time for Tereza at home and Sabina on the side. When Tomas begs Sabina to provide Tereza with a job, the three embark on a journey of sexual tension, intellectual discussion and artistic wonder. However this love triangle is cut short as Soviet tanks come roaring through Czechoslovakia endangering the freedom of all three characters, who then decide to flee to Switzerland. By this time Tomas and Tereza have been long married, and Sabina meets a new man in the form of Franz (Derek de Lint) a married man who eventually leaves his wife and family for her. The danger of commitment drives Sabina away and she moves to the United States, disappearing for the entire third act of the film.

It's this act that is the most interesting, as it truly examines Tomas and Tereza's tumultuous relationship. Tereza realizes that she is too dependant on him, while he could leave her at any time so she moves back to the now Soviet-controlled Prague and Tomas' love for her drives him to return there. Of course Tomas' political values, including an article he wrote criticizing the Soviet Union and 'implying' that they should all pluck their eyes out doesn't shine too well with the Soviets and they ask him to sign a letter to repudiate his article. Tomas is too proud and declines this offer, which leads to him losing his license and he has to settle to becoming a lowly window washer. But he can't hide his womanizing desires, and his infidelity drives Tereza to the same crime. Eventually her shame and the potential of her awkward lover being a Soviet who will blackmail the couple leads to the two of them moving to a rural village and living their life their together.

The most beautiful and romantic elements of the film are portrayed once they move to the village. Without the temptation of infidelity and the power of political intrigue, their life becomes euphoric and simple. Tomas works in the field all day, while Tereza cooks and cleans and they are never too far away from one another. During a trip to a relatively local bar, Tomas is presented with the opportunity of an affair but quickly brings his gaze back to Tereza showing that he is finally complete with her. This blissful relationship provides overwhelming satisfaction and closure to the chaotic life they had led up to this point.

Highlighting this impeccable picture are three sensational performances, a masterfully adapted screenplay full of beautiful and intriguing dialogue and quite possible the finest cinematography of the '80s. Day-Lewis perfectly encompasses the charm of Tomas with a subtle charisma that keeps my eyes glued to him every time he appears on screen. The young Juliette Binoche is adorable, shy and emotionally powerful but also plays it off very subtly. Lena Olin is overwhelmingly seductive and crafts a sense of freedom unlike any I've ever seen. These characters are all very human which means they have their fair share of flaws and the performances capture every essence of them so perfectly.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Awful, bad, horrible movie. schtrunfe
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READ THE BOOK! chelsea_104
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