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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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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...
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.
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.