The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

Philip Kaufman made his breakthrough in this ambitious adaptation of the iconic philosophical novel



United States of America
Drama, Romance
Anne Lonnberg, Bruce Myers, Clovis Cornillac
171 min


The novel would take a shorter time to read, sure, but does it have Daniel Day-Lewis looking deeply into your soul?

What it's about

Czechoslovakia, 1968. With only one life to live, successful surgeon Tomas prefers to live without attachment, flitting from woman to woman, preferring to keep sex and love separate. His closest friend and bohemian Sabina agrees with this philosophy, though he marries the waitress Tereza, who fears being just another body to Tomas.

The take

The only Kundera film adaptation frankly hasn’t disproven that the source novel is unfilmable, but The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a pretty decent attempt. While Kundera’s meditations aren’t tackled in full depth, director Philip Kaufman manages to retain enough of the novel’s images to rein in the unwieldy plot, such as Sabina with the mirror, Tereza’s nightmare of naked women, their photography around Sabina’s studio and the black-and-white moment of Prague Spring, where editor Walter Murch adeptly inserts Tereza and Tomas within the historical footage. These images, along with the excellent cast, keep the wistful feeling that haunts Kundera’s novel.

What stands out

It’s tough to film Kundera’s long-winded but meaningful meditations about the weight and lightness of freedom, but the feelings of Tomas, Tereza, and Sabina are still felt in the film because of the excellent performances of the cast. Lena Olin captures the free spirited poise of Sabina, while Juliette Binoche’s wide-eyed face captures the inexperience and insecurity of Tereza. However, it’s Daniel Day-Lewis that makes the film work, believably turning the initial libertine Tomas into someone able to stick to his convictions.


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