138 user 59 critic

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

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.


Philip Kaufman


Milan Kundera (novel), Jean-Claude Carrière (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
4,184 ( 83)
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 7 wins & 12 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Daniel Day-Lewis ... Tomas
Juliette Binoche ... Tereza
Lena Olin ... Sabina
Derek de Lint ... Franz
Erland Josephson ... The Ambassador
Pavel Landovský ... Pavel
Donald Moffat ... Chief Surgeon
Daniel Olbrychski ... Interior Ministry Official
Stellan Skarsgård ... The Engineer
Tomasz Borkowy Tomasz Borkowy ... Jiri (as Tomek Bork)
Bruce Myers Bruce Myers ... Czech Editor
Pavel Slabý Pavel Slabý ... Pavel's Nephew
Pascale Kalensky Pascale Kalensky ... Nurse Katja
Jacques Ciron 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 »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Daniel Day-Lewis learned Czech for the film, even though it was shot in English. See more »


When we first see Tereza taking photographs in Prague she is shown wearing her wedding ring, yet she and Tomas are not married at this point in the story. 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 Career Girls (1997) See more »


"String Quartet N°1 (Kreutzer Sonata)
Composed by Leos Janácek
See more »

User Reviews

Kubrickian Kundera from Kaufman
17 September 2008 | by christian94See all my reviews

Milan Kundera's masterwork is one of the most profound, powerful and perspicacious work of literary fiction of all-time. However, as one either already knows or soon discovers: a novel and a film are completely different media.

Kaufman's vision is elegant, eloquent and enigmatic. This is necessary to translate the directness and deepness of Kundera's prose. The film unable to delve into the innermost feelings and proclivities of its characters tries to say more by saying less. The movie takes the essence and uses powerful, calculated imagery as its driving motor. This is how this strongly resembles the late Stanley Kubrick's work: meticulous, hard on the actors and often also demanding on the viewers.

Kundera is heard throughout by having some of its most essential prose and ideas integrated into the dialog now and then, but as you've probably guessed, the film cannot capture the sublime subtleties and evocative expansions of the novel. Franz's and Sabina's "dictionary of incomprehension" is only hinted at, while Tomas' son is nonexistent and Tereza's turning moment at the mountain foregone. The focus is highly on the sensuality and, primate, playful to intimate, infidelity. This was a good choice as this dichotomy requires little words to be heard. However, when the characters do speak, the dialog dashes across the screen and dances in your head to be sure. The political overtone is also present with the departure and return to Prague being treated as almost opposite end of a colour spectrum. Kundera hypothesizes on how politics and nudity are one and the same, but Kaufman shows it with vivid imagery on both sides and emblematic parallelism.

The acting and editing make it all work together although there are a few low points in both instances. The two female leads are pretty much incredible. The classic music is charming and appropriate. The writing and directing are on point and the philosophy and melancholy of Kundera finds an appropriate echo in this visceral art medium.

With a slow beginning, the movie quickly builds momentum and the viewer hardly realizes its long running time. The character interactions and tensions, the stunning cinematography and succession of memorable scenes and dialog inspired greatly by the original work, make the viewer actually wish the movie would go on a little longer, whisper something more to its ear. Tomas sums it up by stating his general happiness despite his unforeseen and unwanted condition. After all life is light, you cannot take it too seriously.

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Sweden | USA



Release Date:

5 February 1988 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Unbearable Lightness of Being See more »

Filming Locations:

Prague, Czech Republic See more »


Box Office


$17,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$202,189, 7 February 1988

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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