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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche
Director: Phillip Kaufman
Rated: R
RunTime: 172 Minutes
Release Date: February 1988
Genres: Drama, Erotica, Romance

*Also starring: Erland Josephson, Lena Olin, Derek De Lint, Pavel Landowsky, Donald Moffat

Review by Brian Koller
3½ stars out of 4

Perhaps the worst aspect of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is the satire-prone title, which many people undoubtedly interpreted as "The Unbearable Length of an Art Film". It is true that at 171 minutes, the film drags a little in the second half. But the title, which refers to Tereza's explanation for returning to Czechoslovakia, is far more pretentious than the film itself. In fact, the film has more warmth and eroticism than anything else. The film's backdrop may be the 1968 Russian invasion that toppled the progressive Czech government, but the script is much more interested in following the frequent sexual liasons of its lead characters.

That is not to say that politics aren't present, only that they provide a context. The communists are subtly sinister bureaucrats, using intimidation and blackmail to put fear in the hearts of the people. But whenever politics threatens to dominate the film, the characters leave Prague, and the script can again focus on philanderings and infidelities.

Daniel Day Lewis is Tomas, an ingratiating brain surgeon with a talent for seducing beautiful women. (The film's signature line is "Take off your clothes".) His favorite partner is Sabina (Lena Olin), who shares his free-spirited philosophy. Tomas begins a committed relationship with Tereza (Juliette Binoche), whom he eventually marries. But he is unable to stop philandering. Meanwhile, Soviet tanks arrive in Prague. Our leads flee to Switzerland, where Sabina begins an adulterous relationship with naive Franz (Derek de Lint).

While Olin was the only cast member to receive a significant acting nomination (Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress), Binoche and Lewis are equally good. Daniel Day Lewis may be the best actor of this generation, and he is as convincing here as he was with drastically different (and more challenging) characters in films such as "A Room with a View", "My Left Foot", and "In the Name of the Father".

"Being" received Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay (Jean-Claude Carriere and Philip Kaufman, based on the Milan Kundera novel) and Best Cinematography (Sven Nykist; the film was shot in France due to Czech politics). The Golden Globes nominated "Being" for Best Picture. Still, much credit must go to Kaufman, as his direction makes the characters sensual, credible and compelling.

Copyright 1997 Brian Koller

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