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Showing 1-7 of 7 reviews(4 star).Show all reviews
on August 30, 2007
I've always felt it is a mistake to compare a film adaptation to its literary counterpart. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, as a novel, is hugely significant and wonderful. As a film, it is not necessarily true to the book and that is solely because as a film it is not capable of being true to the book. I would compare making a movie out of Milan Kundera's novel to making a video game out of the Godfather or Pulp Fiction. If that was done we run into issues like forgetting to include the priorities of game play, or simply cashing in on the success of the film. With the Unbearable Lightness of Being, there are inevitably going to be lovers of the book waiting to attack the film, and that has happened. Of course it prioritizes itself efficiently as a cinematic experience, while at the same time it makes for about as good an adaptation of the novel as you can possibly get. It wasn't a filmable story to begin with and even Kundera came forward and said that, but he also consulted the writers of the screenplay. So comparisons between the film and novel are in my opinion pointless but also inescapable. I've already made them myself.

I'm not going to summarize the whole film for you as that would probably be too long-winded and could potentially spoil the story. I'll introduce the characters, place them in a setting and then say go...and then you can add this to your shopping cart, proceed to check out, and then a few days later press play. The film takes place in Prague in 1968 just after Alexander Dubcek lead the Prague Spring advancement. Soon after that the characters suffer through further reform following the eventual invasion of the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact. The film opens with two characters who are lighthearted and carefree lovers. Tomas is a surgeon and womanizer who lives life as though sex and love are two very different things. Sabina is an artist who, in the eyes of Tomas, embodies sex. Tomas soon meets the more heavyhearted Thereza, a waitress and aspiring photographer, who embodies innocence. They are opposites but soon Thereza will also embody love in the eyes of Tomas.

The characters in The Unbearable Lightness of Being evolve wonderfully in a significant and chaotic backdrop, but they never steer from their passions. It is layered as not only a romance, but also as a story about rebellion, and as an erotic dance; but ultimately it is an existential story. A few of these points are strengths only realized if the book is read first. Not that I'd definitely recommend doing that if you haven't already, as the book does stand higher in it's own medium than the film does and you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Some of the deeper messages are unquestionably somewhat muted in the film.

Again though, judged solely as a cinematic narrative, Director Phillip Kauffman makes The Unbearable Lightness of Being a beautiful movie and delves deeply enough into these characters and their world that he manages to capture some of Kundera's vision, while adding his own motion picture flare. I'm conflicted as to whether this movie should be celebrated as a triumph in terms of Kundera's novel, but I'm not conflicted in the least as to whether or not this is a great movie all by itself.
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on January 14, 2004
Do yourself a favor and read Kundera's book to fully appreciate the nuances of this movie, things like what "lightness" stood for (freedom of self and sexual expression). With such liberties staunchly repressed under the dictat of the former Soviet Union, sexual expression becomes a cry for freedom within itself. The movie is erotic, yes, but it carries a whiff of mischief rather than being purposeless, gratuitous "softporn" as some reviewers lament.
Daniel Day-Lewis is pretty decent as Tomas, toggling between a brain surgeon and a Lothario. His performance is disciplined and understated as events overtake Tomas's ability to control his destiny. He has an arrangement with Sabina (Lena Olin), a sculptor who also can find no place for love without freedom in her life. Their relationship is based upon friendship and convenience. Their lovemaking is passionate but not empty or cold. If there is love, it is left unspoken.
Kaufman uses this relationship as the foundation of the movie with most of the dynamic being centered upon the naive country girl (a very fresh and intriguing Juliette Binoche) who rebels against the crushing of the Prague Spring by photographing the brutality.
The trio escape to Switzerland. Geneva then plays a major role in this film as being emblematic of an alternative freedom; a freedom that feels heavy with responsibility. Maybe, within western democracy, when everybody has a voice, then the individual can no longer be heard. Maybe, if there are no small victories, then there is no true lightness. Their freedom can only be felt within context.
Finally, Thomas and Tereza return home to a Soviet Prague. Again, via censure, the communists provide the answer.
Sabina finds a beach side property in California, opting for bland airbrushed seascapes. She lives alone. Her spirit has been quelled by the freedom that surrounds her.
This is truly a beautiful European film, perhaps not too palatable to Hollywood-tainted tastes. Despite its length (which does tend to drag a little) and its erotic texture, I believe it follows its own moral vein.
A thought provoking dash of cinema, highly recommended for any connoisseur's collections!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
One of the most haunting aspects of this movie is that my video store today has it under the "Adult entertainment" section which I thought was a joke. I first saw this on its release in 1988 at the age when I shouldn't have seen it. I'd forgotten so many details of it, and I was newly impressed at the film for the second time.

That aside, I must say that despite the length (and a tendency for some parts to be longer than they should have been), this is a very good film. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Tomas so brilliantly, it's hard to think of him in his other familiar roles (Last of the Mohicans, for instance). Juliette Binoche is also great as Tereza Tomas wife. Supporting characters come and go, and the tone frequently changes with little warning. But those two things work perfectly within the context of the movie. Lena Olin, as Sabrina, does well on her role as a sculptor who also can find no place for love without freedom in her life. Her relationship with Tomas is based upon friendship and convenience. Their lovemaking is passionate but not empty or cold. If there is love, it is left unspoken.

You can see how Teresa, Tomas and Sabina's actions flow from what they are on the *inside*: This film shows how Tomas is driven to his womanizing by his need to be 'light', and how Teresa finds this 'lightness' unbearable by her need for intimacy.

Add on the absolutely mesmerizing cinematography (it acts as naturally as Teresa, Tomas, and Sabina do), and music that seems written for the movie yet is over 60 years old. This is truly a beautiful European film. Not in the ersatz 'Chocolat' style, but in the tradition of Krieslowski and Wajda. Within itself, it is a very moral film. It has a simple beauty that does not wear its heart on its sleeve, but within the wonderfully understated performances that also include Derek De Lindt and the great Stefan Skarsgaard.

You can easily enjoy this film on both TV or on DVD/VHS. If you're not able see it on TV then don't hesitate to rent it or buy it.
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on February 12, 2001
I didn't get this the first time I saw it, so I turned to Kundera's novel. This led me to the great adventure of all of Kundera's work, and he quickly became one of my favorite writers. I rewatched this again recently and was much more impressed this time around. Day-Lewis is perfect as Tomas, the sardonic Lothario. Olin is blood-boiling as Sabina, the incarnation of freedom. And Binoche is captivating as Terersa, the woman for whom Tomas gives up everything. This a stirring, heartbreaking movie. The only problem is that it lacks Kundera's inimitable *voice*, the witty, erudite mini-essays he uses to iluustrate his philosophical points. Kaufman tries to recapitulate that voice in one or two lines of dialogue, but is doesn't work as well. By all means, see this fine film. But don't miss Kundera's original classic.
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on June 19, 2002
I have not seen this DVD (not released yet) but this is one of my all time favorite films. Philip Kaufman (who also directed "The Right Stuff", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (remake), and "Henry and June") combines beautiful and erotic visuals with a compelling story of people caught up in the 1968 uprising in Czechoslavakia, and its aftermath.
Wonderful performances by Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Stands up well to repeated viewings. I have seen this in the theatre, on LaserDisc, and on the excellent Criterion DVD. Don't watch it full screen (4x3)!!
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on August 8, 2000
When Milan Kundera's novel was first made into this film, there was still the flavor of the Cold War and Soviet monolith in the air. The story has to do with the effects on one's personal life that opperssive governments can have. This film beautifully portrays this and the absurdity in daily life brought down on people living under the Czech communist regime. In the present day, one may find it difficult to "get into the mood." Nevertheless, this is one of the excellent films set in that time.
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on July 22, 2011
The setting is Prague before and after the invasion by the soviets - not so timely anymore but still riveting. This is the story of Tomasz, a doctor/poet and his many lovers, all of them seeking meaning and permanence in a society that is rapidly shifting from freedom to oppression. This film is as much about the oppression of lust and the freedom brought by love as it is about poilitical freedom and oppression. Great performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliet Binoche and Lena Olin.
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