The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) Poster

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9/10
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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9/10
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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10/10
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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9/10
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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10/10
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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10/10
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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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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10/10
Sublime
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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2/10
Bad
acquiesce_717 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an amazing novel. Therefore one would expect its film adaptation to be at least decent. But no!!! This is just too bad! I admit that I already had an opinion of what the characters should be like. I visualised Teresa as a young, ethereal beauty, with fragile charm which would be enough to make a committed bachelor feel like he needs to take her under his arms and protect her. Albeit, Juliette Binoche acts like a caricature, seems almost mentally challenged at times and fails to portray an amiable character. On the other hand Tomas is a charming mature man of a pensive nature that never fails to smile to and flirt with women. What did we get? A flamboyant womanizer, yet one more caricature, that shared nothing with Tomas and made this film comical and flat. And why the silly accents? Either make a Czech film or an English film. I found this offensive if I am honest. I have not seen any other Kaufman films, but I very much doubt that I will after this traumatic experience. This film is a poor adaptation and even as a stand-alone makes not much sense, being long and slow but without exploring space or time!
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3/10
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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2/10
I don't understand the fuss about it
sweenetto31 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
*** Contains Spoilers ***

I did not like this movie at all.

I found it amazingly boring and rather superficially made, irrespective of the importance and depth of the proposed themes: given that eventually we have to die, how should we approach life? In a "light" way, like Tomas; in a "heavy" way like Tereza; or should we find ways not to face that question, like Sabina? How much is fidelity important in a relationship? How much of the professional life can be mutilated for the sake of our loved ones? How much do we have to be involved in the political life and the social issues of our Country?

Unfortunately, I haven't read Kundera's novel but after having being let down by the movie I certainly will: I want to understand if the story was ruined by the movie adaptation (which is my guess) or if it was dull from the beginning.

I disagree with most of the positive comments that defined the movie as a masterpiece. I simply don't see the reasons why. What I see are many flaws, and a sample of them follows.

1) The three main characters are thrown at you and it's very hard to understand what drives them when making their choices.

2) The "secondary" characters are there just to fill the gaps but they don't add nothing to the story and you wonder if they are really necessary.

3) I did not like how Tomas was impersonated. Nothing is good for him. He is so self-centered and selfish. He is not human, in some sense. But when his self-confidence fails and he realizes that he depends on others and is emotionally linked to someone, I did not find the interpretation credible.

4) It's very unlikely that an artist like Sabina could afford her lifestyle in a communist country in 1968. On top of that, the three main characters are all very successful in their respective professions, which sounds strange to me. a) how can Tereza become effortlessly such a good photographer? b) how can they do so well in a country lacking all the economic incentives that usually motivate people to succeed?

5) The fake accents of the English spoken by the actors are laughable. And I am not even mother tongue. Moreover, the letter that Sabina receives while in the US is written in Czech, which I found very inconsistent.

6) Many comments praised the movie saying that Prague was beautifully rendered: I guess that most of the movie was shot on location, so it's not difficult to give the movie a Eastern European feeling, and given the intrinsic beauty of Prague is not even difficult to make it look good.

7) I found the ending sort of trivial. Tereza and Tomas, finally happy in the countryside, far away from the temptations of the "metropoly", distant from the social struggles their fellow citizens are living, detached from their professional lives, die in a car accident. But they die after having realized that they are happy, indeed. So what? Had they died unhappy, would the message of the movie have been different? I don't think so. I considered it sort of a cheap trick to please the audience.

8) The only thing in the movie which is unbearably light is the way the director has portrayed the characters. You see them for almost three hours, but in the end you are left with nothing. You don't feel empathy, you don't relate to them, you are left there in your couch watching a sequence of events and scenes that have very little to say.

9) I hated the "stop the music in the restaurant" scene (which some comments praised a lot). Why Sabina has got such a strong reaction? Why Franz agrees with her? I really don't see the point. The only thing you learn is that Sabina has got a very bad temper and quite a strong personality. That's it. What's so special and unique about it?

After all these negative comments, let me point tout that there are two scenes that I liked a lot (that's why I gave it a two).

The "Naked women Photoshoot", where the envy, the jealousy, and the insecurities of Sabina and Tereza are beautifully presented.

The other scene is the one representing the investigations after the occupation of Prague by the Russians. Tereza pictures, taken to let the world know about what is going on in Prague, are used to identify the people taking part to the riots. I found it quite original and Tereza's sense of despair and guilt are nicely portrayed.

Finally, there is a tiny possibility that the movie was intentionally "designed" in such a way that "Tomas types" are going to like it and "Tereza ones" are going to hate it. If this is the case (I strongly doubt it, though) then my comment should be revised drastically.
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2/10
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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Previous reviewer misunderstood movie...
jakkaj21 July 2003
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.
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4/10
Frustrating
Paulo Guedes (pguedes)20 December 2003
If you have read the book, the movie is frustrating. If you haven't, it's just a bad movie. The sex scenes are terrible. Tereza looks like a stupid girl. And all the reflections that make the book wonderful are lost and vague in the movie, and just can't be expressed in the dialogs or Tomas thoughts.
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1/10
A major-major disappointment
SaintGermain23 October 2000
It's frequently said that movies can never equal the original book. Well, in this case, not only the movie is not "as good" as the book, but is an insult to the book. I'd rather see Milan Kundera's novel turned on fire than into this "something," which the director probably calls "adaptation."

All the beautiful philosophy that asks "is it better to carry a heavy load on your shoulders, or cope with the unbearable lightness of being?" is put aside, and instead, all the movie deals with is Daniel Day Lewis' (I cannot say Tomas) sexual adventures with his dumb wife, his mistress, and his other mistresses. François Truffaut already said it: bad directors make bad movies. Don't waste your time and money. Read the book instead, it's really worth it.
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3/10
emphasis on the 'unbearable'
toastermama30 October 2005
yeah cheap shot i know, but this movie is a great example of how a collection of signifiers of 'deepness' (political turmoil, love/lust) can be combined haphazardly to great critical acclaim (see also 'american beauty'). kaufman's movie plods along with gratuitous sex scenes interspersed with often painful dialog sequences (in one scene i counted three different 'generic European' accents affected by the actors) and displays of state might run amok, yet fails to tie them together into the coherent meditation kundera offered. and in its over-long three hours it manages almost completely to gloss over franz,the missing fourth piece in the love triangle that lies at the heart of the plot, and in this manner sacrifices the novel's central mechanism of displaying the spectrum of emotions and of power relations that obtain in love affairs. it also fails to even include token screen time for tomas' son, used in the novel to exemplify some of the political points kundera was making in the novel. combined with the overweening soundtrack, these flaws make this movie's three hours unbearably weighty in tone yet light in content.
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6/10
A lack of philosophy
Bob Sporker7 July 2013
The best thing about the novel was that the events were more meaningful because along with each event came a piece of the author's philosophy which made not only the plot seem whole but the author's main philosophical argument materialize more and more as we read on.

The movie was only a documentation of the plot and because it was a movie I guess it could only "lightly" touch upon the author's philosophy. Maybe a narrator in the background could have filled us in? I watched the movie not because I enjoyed the plot but because I enjoyed reading the author's ideas about life. They weren't as evident in the movie, but I gave a 6 because the acting and cinematography were good.
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3/10
Bad
mr_dark_eyed10 March 2012
I watched this with an open mind. I loved the book (LOVED) and knew (read) that the movie wasn't a direct reflection of the book , which, given the nature and style of the book, makes sense. But what I didn't expect was how shallow and bad the 'adaptation' was. I thought that when a director decides to tackle such issues and to deal with such a great book, he would try harder, or at least be much deeper, and I thought such actors would not take part in something that bad. From the very beginning I was very unsatisfied. I thought I was watching a comedy. Something very American about the first part of the movie. The scene in the spa, the way Tomas was portrayed. Too cocky. A character with no 'weight' or even flesh. It's as though the director told Daniel 2 words to describe his role before they started shooting: You are a cocky womanizer. period. The way he was inspecting Tereza after she got out of the pool! I couldn't believe that it was actually happening. I was laughing, whereas I would be reading Kundera's deep thoughts about this chance encounter. about Fate. Did Tereza really have to pick her nose while waiting at Tomas' door for the first time? Is this really the way to show us how naive and simple she is? really, what kind of woman picks her nose while standing in front of a man she has a crush on (or any man)? And did she have to act like a dumb retarded person the whole time? Tomas.. I don't remember ever meeting someone like Tomas, in real life. He is so unconvincing. It's like a kids movie where characters are either black or white, so the little ones can tell who is good and who is evil. Can't a womanizer be more subtle? OK, he is handsome and we know he sleeps around and loves women, can you now make him a real human being, so we can buy the whole story? And what about the silly accents? Are they Czech? is that why they have accents? why are they talking in English then? If you want the audience to forget about the whole language issue, then make them speak in English and forget about the accents. Lets forget about the language and focus on the dialogue. But what's the point in making a British actor fake a strange accent in order to play a Czech character who speaks English with his Czech friends???? it only helped in keeping me aware all the time that these people are acting. Sabina's character was very irritating to me, while she was very intriguing in the book. The "Stop This Noise" scene was very bad. Franz was a character with no flesh or meat. Was he a weak character? why was he agreeing with her like that? In the book, we knew enough about him (and Sabina) so we could make sense of their relationship and interaction. But not here. It's as though the director relied on the fact that we know about the characters from the book and will fill in the gaps. That's what I was doing at least, relying on my knowledge of the characters to make sense of some scenes.

I can go on...

I think if you attempt to turn this unusual book into a film, then you should be able to use unusual ways to create an unusual film with unusual structure, as opposed to the conventional usual narrative and storytelling. It takes a brave daring filmmaker to deal with such book. Mr. Kaufmann is not. He belongs in Hollywood.

This film proves one thing: if you base your lousy film on a great book, there's good chance you will get away with it, and even get praised for it.
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1/10
Unbearable, indeed
Mr Pants16 January 1999
I think Phillip Kaufman read the cliff's Notes version of the Kundera novel and then set about making this film. Okay, of course it won't have the punch of the original. Kundera's novels are great because of his manipulation of the narrative concept, his ability to step in and out of stories he constructs. This film does not even try! The one dream sequence of Tereza's, so vital to the atmosphere of the book, is reworked and makes no sense whatsoever. Also, and this is perhaps a lesser point, Daniel Day-Lewis looks a lot like Ben Stiller in this (I know it's not really a valid complaint, but hey). A perfect example of the Hollywood-izing of otherwise fine literature.
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7/10
Personal meaning in love, in expression, and between ordinary people
secondtake20 October 2010
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

I liked this book a lot, and I like director Philip Kaufman's approach to movies. The best of this movie is terrific, as well: the wild culture of personal and cultural freedom at the start, the chilling invasion of Soviet tanks in the center, and the last half hour of idealized romance and happiness in the country.

That kind of gives away the movie, it would seem. But in a way, the movie is about how all these things happen. This is where it gets to be about taste and patience. It's a long movie, and much of the events are not really a development of plot, but a steady continuation of a variety of relationships (mainly between the lead man and the two main women). There is a plot behind all this, especially around their leaving Czechoslovakia and then finding a return to bliss in the Czech countryside, but this doesn't drive the movie overall.

For me, it wasn't enough to see these people enjoying sex and discovering conflicts between the three legs of the love triangle. Scenes were often leisurely in a way that implies we were glad to just be there and watch things happen within a pocket of frozen time, rather than through time. By that I mean, it wasn't where you were going with the emotional aspects, but it was where you were, the now of the interactions. The might actually be where the book was so successful--it created moods and scenes where you were, actually, glad to just be absorbed. For me, that wasn't always the case in the film version.

Part of the problem might just be Daniel Day Lewis, who is a bit too self-satisfied, not as a character (that is certain) but as an actor. He lacks the magnetism that might sustain the unlikely and ongoing love the two women have for him, even as they know about each other. On the other hand, it's a huge, epic tale about true freedom, and a very real pursuit of happiness. And when the energy gets going, and the mood is fully expanded, there is magic. Especially, again, at the end, including the famous fade to white in the last frames, it is about a kind of heaven on earth. Who can object to that?
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5/10
Misplaced Focus: Flat Philandering
bsgyrl044 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Never before has a movie prompted me to write an online review. For some reason this one did. It's because the film critic majority, with whom I usually agree, appears to have inexplicably overrated it. It's also because the movie had the potential to be great but just wasn't.

The cinematography, emphasis on Sabine in her Magic Hat, grabbed me from the beginning, but even then there was something drawn out about the pacing of the story that nagged at me. The addition of Tereza seasoned the infuriating slowness with equally infuriating character passivity. But she was undeniably luminous, and Tomas, though amoral, was charismatic, so I crossed my fingers that they'd grow as characters and went with it.

I sat through Tomas insulting Tereza's intelligence by playing dumb about his infidelity. I sat through Tereza abdicating her own values out of desperation. I watched Tomas act surprised that amid his neglect and emotional detachment Tereza was not happy (imagine that!). Then, all of a sudden, about midway through, something happened. The very sight of Tomas became repulsive. I no longer gave a damn about him, and by extension I no longer gave a damn about the women who cared about him. Losing concern for the movie's characters meant I no longer cared about the movie.

Which is a shame, because the politics were fascinating. The scene in which Tereza's photos result in a roundup of Czech rebels, and that in which Tomas refuses almost impishly to sign a communist declaration, were riveting. As was the emotionally complex photographic tango between Tereza and Sabine, which was anything but prurient. It was one of the most poignant power struggles I have ever seen on film, and it was the only part that burned my eyes with something like emotion. In fact, the theme of voyeurism throughout is deftly handled and arguably the film's most worthy discussion fodder.

I would have enjoyed a movie whose focus was Czech-Russian politics, and sex only to the extent that intimate power-play clearly echoed and/or shed light on national power-play. At the very least, I would have appreciated a hint as to what was so gosh darn attractive about Tomas, or what screwed the women up so badly in their childhoods as to make Tomas actually look appealing to them. The mistake of the movie is its misogynist assumption that female viewers will fall for Tomas despite themselves, as Tereza did. Unfortunately for it, fortunately for us, we can see right through him. And what we see is merely a self-stroking philanderer, not worth 3 minutes of our time, let alone 3 hours.
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1/10
Long, pretentious, boring.
ready4fun0115 August 2006
Oh, I heard so much good about this movie. Went to see it with my best friend (she's female, I'm male). Now please allow me a divergent opinion from the mainstream. After the first couple of dozen "take off your clothes," we both felt a very strange combination of silliness and boredom. We laughed (at it, not with it), we dozed (and would have been better off staying in bed), we were convinced we had spent money in vain. And we had. The plot was incoherent, and the characters were a group of people about whom it was impossible to care. A waste of money, a waste of celluloid. This movie doesn't even deserve one out of ten votes, but that's the lowest available. I'm not sure why this movie has the reputation that it does of being excellent; I don't recommend it to anyone who has even a modicum of taste or intelligence.
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7/10
Too uneven and too long - but with great performances
Bene Cumb13 March 2013
Although the screenplay is based on the great and world-famous book by Milan Kundera, it was written by others (Jean-Claude Carrière and the director Philip Kaufman) and thus lost its original touch and approach - as was pointed out by Kundera himself who withdrew from the outcome. On the other hand, fragile feelings, ponderings and internal doubts are very difficult to express on the screen - without losing the pace and uniformity of the plot. It is also pity that Prague was not / could not been used, as it is a beautiful city and gives more realism than the French places used. Depicion of the socialist/communist oppression is, however, rather perfunctory, seeming not so serious as it really was in the 1970ies within the Warsaw block when hopes of intellectuals for the so-called human-faced socialism vanished as liberal steps were diminished or repealed.

The cast is, of course, brilliant, in particular the bohemian ménage à trois members: Daniel Day-Lewis as Tomas, Juliette Binoche as Tereza and Lena Olin as Sabina - all later multiple Academy Award winners and/or nominees, and from different European countries (the movie itself is still the US one). They and some other fine European actors have provided the movie a real European atmosphere, without a Hollywood studio feeling as sometimes perceived in "older" movies.

Nevertheless, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is still a movie high above average, enhancing historical facts as well. But it is hard to say whether is is recommendable to read the book before or after...
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3/10
Unbearable Lightness of Watching
Jac-1517 August 1999
This film is quite boring. There are snippets of naked flesh tossed around in a lame attempt to keep the viewer awake but they don't succeed.

The best thing about the movie is Lena Olin--she does a masterful job handling her character, but Day-Lewis garbles most of his lines.

Kaufman clearly had no idea how to film this. The incongruities in bouncing between domestic household/marriage issues and political crises are badly matched. Character attitudes change without explanation throughout. Badly disjointed.
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1/10
incredibly bad
s2ao8 March 2006
Seriously, Why do American and Frech actors pretending to be Czechs need to speak perfect English with a fake Russian accent? I am a man, so i enjoyed the gratuitous nudity--but a soft porn flick would have more of that, and at least wouldn't pretend it's artistic.

All the political statements where painfully didactic- has the director heard of subtlety? The acting was also woody and melodramatic, and the comic relief was never funny. The characters were very shallow, and I just couldn't identify with them at all.

The bit where I did laugh was when they cut the actors into archival footage of the demonstrations in Prague - and they were black and white and then sepia to match the footage-just ludicrous.

I read many of Kundera's short stories (not The Unbearable Lightness of Being), and there are good things about his style of writing (although his themes are one big male fantasy)-and I have to say, the film did NOT convey any of the goodness of Kunderas style.
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