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Seen and Read: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This eighties drama shares its story and title with Milan Kundera‘s magnificent and widely renowned novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Having read it, it’s impossible not to compare it – in the very narrow way one can compare literature to cinema – with the film. A crucial factor when adapting something from one medium to another is understanding and adequately using what each medium has to offer, so even though cinema can explore theories and its respective arguments, this exercise becomes increasingly harder when the story at hand is somewhat elaborate – which is the case, here – mainly because the time to do it is limiting. 

Philosophical theories and meditations are precisely one of the key elements of Kundera’s novel, so while the book explores and often recurs to them, the film merely mentions them. On wether a viewer who has not read the book can fully grasp the implications of these allusions I cannot tell, for I deliberately read the book before watching the film. Consequently, the mere sight of Sabina’s hat has the utmost symbolism. I suspect however, that naturally, they cannot. But it is my understanding that this is not a flaw of the film, but rather an advantage of the book. 

If we acknowledge this, we’re left with an intricate web of events, conducted by four characters, motivated by both desire and fear, and profoundly constricted by their country’s political state. These four characters are Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis), Tereza (Juliette Binoche), Sabina (Lena Olin) and Franz (Derek de Lint), and the country of the first three, is Czechoslovakia, in 1968. Tomas is a neurosurgeon and a man of many love affairs. One day he meets Tereza, a strange and naive girl who falls in love with him. Sabina is one of Tomas lovers, that meets Franz when she leaves Prague for Geneva. Sabina lives haunted by the memory of her mother’s scorn towards her, Tereza is tormented by nightmares that reflect profound insecurities, and Tomas struggles with Tereza’s torments, as he wonders why he’s still with her, and why he cannot leave her. 

Three struggling characters in a struggling country, each with their own definition of justice, love, existence. It’s an inward meditation provoked by the chaos of an outward scenario. While the book invites you to dwell on these subjects, the film depicts them through splendid performances. Both are highly recommended.
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