“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1988) starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, & Lena Olin

Tereza: I know I’m supposed to help you, but I can’t. Instead of being your support I’m your weight. Life is very heavy to me, but it is so light to you. I can’t bear this lightness, this freedom… I’m not strong enough.

Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a young/apolitical/doctor in 1960s Czechoslovakia; he lives the life of a Casanova, working his charm on many women. He is involved w/ a sophisticated artist (“friends w/ benefits” would be the term today), Sabina (Lena Olin). On a trip to operate on a patient in a rural town, he meets/falls hard for a shy waitress, Tereza (Juliette Binoche). In time, Tomas asks Sabina to help find a job for Tereza. The two women (opposites in many ways) meet, share an interest in photography, and become close friends. These three characters are are caught up in the events of the Prague Spring of 1968, until Soviet tanks crush the (non-violent) rebels, and change their lives forever.

Tomas: Some people never change. Some people are always scoundrels.

This is the type of film to recommend to anyone who thinks they can’t be “wowed” by movies anymore! DDL was just 30 y.o. when this film was shot- wow! This is his 1st big movie; he played a quirky/supporting role in A Room with a View (1985). DDL at first turned down the role, feeling the script made Tomas too nice. The script was revised and things from the book (by Milan Kundera) were added, making the character less “perfect.” Speaking of perfection… Roger Ebert wrote that Binoche was “almost ethereal in her beauty and innocence” after watching 23 y.o. French woman’s performance. As the French say: Vive La Binoche! Swedish-born Olin (32 y.o.) has her American film debut; some of today’s single/childfree/independent-minded women may relate to her character. Speaking of Swedes… Stellan Skarsgard (mid-30s) has a small, BUT pivotal role in the 3rd act.

To me, thoughts are fun and art is fun. The strength of our society should not be idle entertainments, but the joy of pursuing ideas. -Philip Kaufman, director

If you want fame, and a beautiful statue made of yourself, don’t be a screenwriter. The writer disappears. He works in the shade. -Jean-Claude Carriere, screenwriter

I was surprised to learn that the director, Philip Kaufman, is an American (NOT European, as I’d assumed). The cinematographer (a respected veteran in his field) is Swedish; Sven Nykvist was know for giving the films he worked on the simplest and most natural look imaginable. Milos Forman personally offered Kaufman the opportunity to direct the movie. Forman had to pass the chance to direct b/c he still had family in Czechoslovakia; he feared for them in case of a negative reaction from the Soviet government (occupying the country at the time). The sequence depicting the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia incorporates real documentary footage of the era shot by students of Prague Film School.

[1] 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.

[2] There has been many threesomes in cinematic history. The acting power in these three is one of best. Daniel is able to make the charismatic cad likable. Lena is sexual dynamite. Juliette is pure magic in this one. It is a great threesome against the backdrop of compelling political turmoil.

[3] 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.

[4] …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…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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