The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) Poster

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Memorable and beautifully done
FANatic-1015 April 1999
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.
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Moves You in a Totally Different Way
triangulate4 July 2005
Warning: 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.
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Utterly romantic
francois chevallier17 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
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!
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One of the finest works of the '80s.
dead475484 November 2007
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.
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A wonderful Film
njmollo19 January 2005
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.
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Unbearably Beautiful - one of the best films ever made
zetes11 August 2001
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.
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Pretentious Rubbish With Two Redeeming Elements.
Jem Smith2 August 2013
Aka My Left Testicle , aka The Unbearable Pretentiousness of a Dreadful Film.

Absolutely awful . Dreadful script , comically bad acting , especially from the perpetually smug Daniel Day Lewis and his terrible mid European accent.

It does though warrant 2 stars for the acres of bare flesh displayed by the equally gorgeous Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche.

So don't waste 150 minutes of your life , search the net and find the 15 minutes or so of Olin and Binoche at their beautiful best. Don't waste your time on the other 135 minutes.
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Only what is heavy has value
csm2325 July 2003
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.
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Equinexus22 November 2000
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.
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A very poor adaptation
yayotwo14 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
After reading the book, which had a lot of meaning for me, the movie didn't give me any of the feeling which the book conveyed. This makes me wonder if Kaufman even liked this book for he successfully made it into something else.Either that or he is simply bad. Most importantly where is the lightness?! From the very first scene, music drownes out most of the dialogue and feeling, and this continues right through the movie. I think the makers thought that by having upbeat music playing right through the movie, this would make the story feel light- however they have completely failed here. Instead the music manages to give everything that 'movie feel', in a way dramatising events so that we linger on them, so that everything actually feels heavy.

Another example of the how this adaptation fails is by embellishing the story line making it more dramatic. In the movie we see Franz passing Tomas on the street, who is on his way to see Sabina. The introduction of this chance meeting/passing, which im sure didn't happen in the book, gives Tomas' story more significance than it does make it light.

There are many other examples where the continuity of the story has been changed, imo for the worst, however this might have been done because the book simply doesn't convert well into a movie, such is Kundera's style. This makes we wonder if all the generous reviewers on this site were writing with their book AND movie experience in mind rather than writing about just the film. A film which is as long as it is uncompelling. For those who haven't read the book yet I recommend just reading that. For those who have, I have to say you will just be wasting your time and probably end up here writing similar stay-clear warnings.
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