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Romanticism originally doesn't mean romance. The 19th century romantic
hero was always a doomed one. The romantic characters long for
something larger than life. The frailness, lightness of things is
unbearable to those sensitive beings. This is why romantic stories
typically end with the death of their heroes. Romanticism is the
opposite of Hollywood, as there is no happy end. The epitome of a
romantic story is for example "Romeo and Juliet", where death is
preferred to an impossible love story.
Because such intense feelings are a threat, some people try to escape them by taking nothing seriously. For example, Tomas (Daniel Day Lewis), a young surgeon living in Prague in the late sixties. He is a perfect womanizer, but he never sleeps together with any woman, because he instinctively refuses any attachment. Such is also sensuous Sabina (Lena Olin), his favorite mistress and best friend, whose utmost erotic weapon happens to be... a bowler hat.
When Tomas is called for an operation at a small country spa, he seduces a young ingenuous waitress named Tereza (Juliette Binoche), but is not aware that she does not take things as lightly as he does. Bored to death with her provincial life, Tereza longs for something larger than life. She is vulnerable, sentimental, attaching. When she shows up by surprise at Tomas's apartment in Prague one evening, he lets her stay. He is trapped.
Neither of them suspects that they are living an intense moment in a crucial place. This is Prague, Czechoslovakia, the Eastern Block. But the winds of change are blowing in general enthusiasm, and Czechs believe that they are about to create " socialism with a human face". Encouraged by Sabina, Tereza becomes a photographer, and captures on film all the small daily life scenes, the beauty and uniqueness of every moment.
Tereza's caring love can't stop Tomas having affairs with "other women", much to her disarray. As she finally can't take it anymore, she decides to leave. But as she steps out on the dark streets, it sounds like an earthquake is coming. The Soviet tanks are entering the city. The reconstitution of Prague's invasion in this movie is extraordinarily intense, even more so as clips of the real events are included in the footage. Those few moments alone are strong enough to make this long movie worth seeing.
Tomas, Tereza and Sabina exile themselves to Geneva. Sabina has an affair with a married Swiss man, who "doesn't like bowler hats". As he eventually decides to leave his wife for her, she is very shaken, but she disappears. No attachment. It's lonely to be free. As for Tomas, Switzerland can't stop him either playing Casanova. Tereza still can't stand it, and she suddenly goes back to "the land of the weak". But I said it, Tomas is trapped. He can't live without her. He can't help following her back to Prague, although it's clear there is no future for them there anymore.
The story is an adaptation of a novel by much praised Czech novelist Milan Kundera, and it is one of those cases when the movie is more intense than the book. Whereas the movie is highly emotional, the book's tone is dry, cold, almost clinical.
Made by American director Philip Kaufman, this picture is European in every way. It captures perfectly well the "old world" nostalgic atmosphere of Czechoslovakia. The music score by Czech classical composers is gripping, sometimes melancholic, sometimes frantic. The lead actors are giving their all, and this film is certainly among their best performances for all three. The supporting cast also has some big European names in it (Erland Josephson, Daniel Olbrychski, Stellan Skarsgård). Cheerful performance by Czech actor Pavel Landovsky, who personally lived the Prague events. Here, he appears as a jolly and solid peasant with a pet pig called Mephisto, who follows him just everywhere, even at wedding parties!
Tomas and Tereza's pet is a she-dog called Karenin. She is the symbol of their love. They adopt her at the beginning of their relationship, take her together to Geneva, but as she escapes, Tereza takes her along back to Prague. As Karenin gets ill in the end, they make her a lethal injection so that she doesn't suffer. Pretty much what will happen to them too.
And well, I never knew bowler hats could be so erotic!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A few weeks ago I decided to drive from San Diego to Michigan because
my cat had died and I was depressed. On the road I listened to several
books on CD, one of which was "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." The
book intrigued me, partly because near the end, like me, Tomas and
Tereza had to deal with a dying pet, but also because it dealt with big
themes like love, sex and loyalty in a very unusual way. Along the way,
almost incidentally, it shows you what life and politics were like in
Czechoslovakia's "spring," before and after the Soviets moved forcibly
back in the tanks.
So when I got back to San Diego one of the first things I did was rent the DVD of the movie. And I wasn't disappointed. First off, I think the movie is as faithful to a book as a movie could or should be, remembering that we're dealing with two different types of media. In the commentary on the CD, for example, the screenwriter explains they decided to leave out scenes with Tereza's mother because they realized that Juliette Binoche was communicating that part of the story merely by the way she (brilliantly) portrayed the character of Tereza.
Kundera's themes of lightness, heaviness, and repetition are very deep; I don't pretend to understand them completely. For me, it's enough that they intrigue, and the movie does them justice.
The acting of all the principals is astounding. I never had seen Lena Olin before, and I appreciated Juliette Binoche and Daniel Day Lewis more than ever.
And as much as I liked listening to the CD of the book, it did not make me cry at the end.
But the movie did.
One of the most romantic films ever made, it shows the problems of people whose intimacies and personal conflicts are being interrupted by history on the move. I think this film surpasses the novel, which is utterly cynical (although understandably). Even in the last moments of the novel, Teresa is concerned that Tomas is cheating on her. The film also does well by dropping much of Franz's character - he was kind of uninteresting compared to Teresa, Tomas, and Sabina. It also drops such deadweight characters as Teresa's mother, Tomas' son, and Franz's wife. Also, a ton of different coworkers are combined into a few, so that their characters have time to develop. By concentrating on the three central characters, this film blossoms past what the novel ever achieved (although the novel is arguably more historically important). Philip Kaufman and Jean-Claude Carriere also add a couple of beautiful scenes that weren't in the novel, including Tomas' and Teresa's wedding, which is one of the most beautiful scenes in filmdom.
I've not read the book this is based on, so have no way to comment on how this movie translates it. But the film itself has stayed in my mind like few others. Yes, it's very long, but the characters are so memorable that the length didn't bother me at all - I loved the time spent in their company. In particular, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin are each astonishing in their own way. Olin is ferociously sensual and mesmerizing, while Binoche is superlatively sympathetic and sensitive. Two of the best female performances I can remember. By the end of the film I was totally wrapped up in these people's lives. This film is deeply erotic but in an intelligent and adult way that puts most other film's treatment of sex to shame. I thought it was beautifully handled by all concerned, and if I ever want to cry, I only need watch the scenes with the dog and the final scenes, both pulled off superbly.
This is a great work. The Actors, director and all involved in this
production should be very proud. It is wonderful Film.
The acting is pure and real. Juliette Binoche is truly a remarkable actor. Her desperation is beautifully played ( "I know he loves me."). Only a cold heart could not be moved by such a truthful performance. Daniel Day-Lewis plays his part with such realism, that he seems almost not to be acting. That is the art of his game. Lena Olin is outstanding. The scene in which she complains about the music is, I feel, a classic.
I love this film, and thats what it is, a film. Not a book. This Film seems to tap into something truly moving and touching. Thank you to all the crew involved. A Classic of Cinema.
Imagine you're at the theater attending a live performance, a truly living
performance in which both axioms and mythological truths are entered into
and shared by actors and audience alike. Now suppose that the backdrop for
all the action is dark, oppressive, and heavy, while all that transpires
before it is light, glib, and ineffectual. Now consider that, through the
course of the play, all that is bouncy and trivial becomes overwhelmed and
absorbed by the gravity of the background, like light being sucked into the
gravity of a black hole, so that what was once meaningless and unimportant
and even silly becomes increasingly momentous and important and valuable as
the play progresses. If you can see this outline in your mind's eye, you
have a good idea about The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera's
novel by the same name brought to life as a movie. The film, like the
novel, declares one thing: `only necessity is heavy, and only what is heavy
has value.' I so love this idea, this earth shattering insight: it
effortlessly capsizes our Postmodern zeitgeist in one innocuous little
phrase. And the film expresses it beautifully.
Set in the Prague Spring of 1968, when the Soviets put down Dubcek's `Socialism with a Human Face,' the weight of these events draws the lives of a Czech doctor, his wife, and his lovers, into its orbit. And instead of crushing them, as one might assume, it becomes the fire that purifies gold. Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis), for example, had previously written a treatise on Oedipus, a witty exercise in sophistry aimed at the Communist regime as a provocative analogy, nothing more. But as the essay becomes an object of obsession to the Communists, we see Kundera's definition of vertigo come into play. It is not the fear of falling, but the soul's defense against the desire to fall. Tomas wanted to fall. Why? Watch the movie, and find out for yourself.
Well acted and well directed. An uninhibited examination of lust vs. love, and the comfort of monogamy vs. the prison of possessiveness without over-dramatization or false emotion. Kaufman's depiction is faithful to Kundera's work, even if some depth is lost, as is inevitable in any film adaptation of a novel.
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.
I would have to disagree with the previous reviewer. First of all, the movie should have a "euro" feel to it because it's about Europeans, in Europe, and their European mentality. No car chases here, hot shot. That being said, I only have great praise for this film. It's a tremendous attempt to put to screen the subtle understanding Milan Kundera has of the human condition, and it surprisingly succeeds. For those more interested, I recommend you pick up some of his novels (start with a short story if you are pressed for time) and you, too, will realize why he is one of the best storytellers alive today.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is one of those occasional attempts
by American filmmakers to make a European art-house movie in English,
in this case taking on an 'unfilmable' novel and trying to solve the
problem of turning inner monologue into a credible narrative. Despite,
or perhaps because of Jean-Claude Carriere's presence as co-writer with
director Philip Kaufman, this tends to take the form of the odd
conversation between shags rather than an attempt to turn ideas into
images, leaving a rather conventional narrative about a philandering
surgeon who ultimately needs the oppression of the Russian invasion
rather than the freedom of the Czech Spring to focus his emotional
commitments and principles. Some of this is done well, some of it less
well, but at the end of the day it's just a love story, although it
deals well with the personal consequences of the political crackdown
and the ending is quietly moving. Which, in a way, reflects some kind
of emotional triumph whereas for most of the film we don't really
care for the characters, merely go along with them, by the end, like he
hero, we have at least attained some genuine level of emotional
Whether that entirely justifies 171-minutes of screen time is debatable, though in its defence the film never feels that long. There are moments that grate, not least the sporadically clumsy integration of the main characters into archive footage of the Russian invasion that draws attention to itself by the crude device of adding scratches only to the new footage. The photography session doesn't quite work either despite an interesting start, not quite pulling off the shift of power and veering off into self-indulgence. The performances are slightly problematic too, especially with the Czechs limited to the smaller supporting roles in an Anglo-French-Swedish-American cast leading to a variety of composite accents (often more Germanic than Slav) and a feeling that the casting directors thought "Yeah, he sounds foreign, he'll do" at times. Daniel Day Lewis fares well as the coldly charismatic and fickle doc but still hadn't shrugged off that well-trained British stage actor feel to his performances; Juliette Binoche is genuinely appealing in one of her more open performances, although it's a bit of a stretch that her character never loses her naiveté; but as the more passionate of his loves Lena Olin is somewhat more problematic, her performance getting less convincing as the film progresses until rediscovering its humanity in her final scene. Of the supporting players, Erland Josephon has one good scene as a former ambassador reduced to being a janitor that underlines the way that even love and sex can be used as weapons of political oppression merely through the introduction of doubt an idea that becomes strangely more powerful because of the way Kaufman frequently fails to summon up much in the way of eroticism because he generally regards sex as joyfully comic.
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