It caught my eye this film, like no other, when I saw it on cable, since it was a very interesting film, which contained some sort of love story, caught in the middle of a military revolt. So I went on and rented it and found out it was more than that. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is one of the most captivating and poignant films I’ve ever seen. It’s a masterpiece from director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) that blends perfectly sexual and erotic imagery with human nature, morality, and political ideologies, all which make up into a perfectly balanced film, which makes it great to watch. Don’t expect it to be a Tuesday night porno movie, because it’s more than that. The sublime images and haunting message give you an interesting feeling of life’s lightness and how can that affect our lives.The film is the story of a womanizing brain surgeon called Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis), who lives in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and has everyday run-ins with women, lots of women. Nobody understands how he can manage to do this, except his sexual partner or fuck buddy, the sensual Sabina (Lena Olin), who lives the same lifestyle. It seems that for them sex is just a diversion, an entertainment. But then on an assignment to do an operation in a clinic located in a small town outside of the city, he meets a beautiful, childish waitress and amateur photographer, Tereza (Juliette Binoche), and then leaves with an impression of her. But Tereza’s impression of Tomas is more than she can resist, since she quits her job and drives to his house, and they both fall in love, or she. In the end they marry and settle together, but Tomas’ way of life becomes very unbearable for Tereza, and just as things start to heat up, the Russian intervention of Czechoslovakia occurs. During that, they try to get their differences together, and their political views of the new government are also put to the test. Meanwhile Sabina interewines with them, and also experimenting on her own, until she later realizes also about the course of her life so far, while Teresa is at odds whether she can live up to this lifestyle that Tomas is used to, this…lightness, which at times is so unbearable.
"Like Reds, only more poignant, meaningful and erotic"
I’ve heard about the jokes that they make to the title, which they compare towards the length of the film, which lasts three hours. Yet, nobody seems to realize that the key of this film is in the title itself. What does “unbearable” and “lightness” has to do with the film? For this you have to look at the ethics that make up a relationship. A relationship between a couple is some sort of a responsibility, a sexual and spiritual responsibility, that a man will always be loyal to his woman, that only her and nothing more. But if you think farther, it also makes you wonder, why does someone have to be committed sexually when you’re committed spiritually. For Tomas, that’s how things are for him in his life. For him, sex is a pleasure, something that you do for pleasure with any girl, in other words you do it just for fun. One has the liberty of going and having sex with anyone he wants, and it’s okay, unless you become committed to that person and that you’ll love her, but that’s just love, sex is another thing. Same thing with Sabina, she also lives that lifestyle, and they do it and they’re still friends, why? Because for them sex is only an entertaining pleasure that’s all. That’s the lightness of it all.
Enter Tereza, a girl like many others, which is unaware and unused to Tomas’ lifestyle. Tereza’s opinion is that someone that makes love is because they’re in love. Tomas lets her stay at his house and they both fall in love, and soon things go for a twist, since Tomas has violated his lightness and Tereza is unaware of it until later. Tereza tries to live with it and try to understand the lightness of her husband, but it becomes unbearable for her, why? Because she’s not used to it, and thanks to that, they both clash because of it. Now, why that? The film puts morality in question, but morality is a human value made by the people. I mean does someone have to be truly committed lovingly AND sexually to his partner? What about freedom? Doesn’t anyone have the freedom of having sexual pleasure with anybody he wants? Sex, in a cold point of view doesn’t have anything to do with love, love is spiritual, but sex isn’t, it’s just a carnal pleasure. This of course sounds and is controversial, but if you open your mind and start thinking for a minute, you’ll see it makes sense, and all will come to this very same conclusion. All of this, the lightness and the love is later shown metaphorically through Sabina’s hat and Tereza’s and Tomas’s dog, Karenin.
The film doesn’t and never crosses the line between what it is and what is pornographic. It doesn’t try to be a porno either; the cinematography (beautifully shot by Sven Nykvist) just makes its point on how this entire ideology works. The sexual and erotic imagery in the film is just the instrument of why this is the way it is.
The film also takes you into the political views during the 50’s, when Czechoslovakia was forced into the Soviet iron curtain, and how many Czechoslovaks expressed their feelings against the communist regime, and how this is suppressing their morals of liberty and democracy. Again, in this part we’re shown, how the Soviet regime affects the Czechoslovaks, and how their tyranny is “unbearable” for them, since it goes against their very lifestyle. In short, the entire film, which was based on the book by Milan Kundera, is a brilliant depiction of how many morals, from the most human to the most political can be challenged, and how this can affect our very lives, since for us it’s not our way of living, and that we’ve been forced all these new ways of thinking, thanks to all these new laws. For us, this “lightness” or lifestyle is “unbearable.”
The performances were great by all the actors, especially the three leads, Day-Lewis, Binoche, and Olin, who manage to pull off their roles with style. The supporting cast also fits in well, and all the performances of the actors make this film work. I was even more amazed by Philip Kaufman, who wrote the script with Jean-Claude Carriere, since he manages to balance all the main ingredients of this “un-filmable” novel into a brilliant piece of work, and never exaggerates in any part. I certainly enjoyed it.In the end, I recommend you to watch this movie, forget about the nudity and all that shit since there’s more to the film than just the nudity. Watch with a clear mind, since this film will tend to challenge you morally. The ending part will leave you with a bittersweet taste in your mouth, but with also a grin on your face, you’ll know what I mean. The film is comparable to the many love stories caught in war, such as Reds, and The English Patient, but overall, it’s a great film that stands on it’s own, and surely it’s a film not to miss.
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originally posted: 07/12/01 16:28:03