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Unbearable Lightness of Being, The

Unbearable Lightness of Being, The(1988)


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Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a noted brain surgeon in 1968 Prague, whose "lightness of being" stems from a sexual freedom devoid of emotional commitment. He enjoys no-strings sexual encounters, making it a point never to spend the entire night with a woman, or allow her to stay with him. One of his regulars is Sabina (Lena Olin), an equally free-spirited painter with whom he shares many nights of joyful, unrestrained sex.

But Tomas's life is changed when he is sent to a small country town to perform an operation. Before leaving meets Tereza (Juliette Binoche), and pursues her as he has a hundred other woman, but is unable to bring the encounter to completion because of some poor timing. But Tereza is smitten, and she later follows him to Prague and shows up on his doorstep. When he bids her to take off her clothers, she claims to have a cold, and Tomas offers to examine her, in what turns out to be the most sensual physical on screen, which quickly degenerates into passionate sex. Tereza turns out to be the one woman with whom Tomas breaks his creed: he allows her to stay the night, and ends up marrying her: but does not let that disrupt his meaningless encounters.

Tomas's carefree existence is finally disrupted when Russian tanks arrive to quash the Czechoslovakian uprising. Tereza, a politically active philosopher, goes straight to the heart of the battle, taking dangerous photographs of the invaders which she gives to foreign nationals to smuggle out of the country. And she and Tomas eventually have to flee to Geneva, where they once again meet up with Sabina, and resume their featherweight existence.

When Tereza uncovers Tomas's affairs, she finds her life intolerable: realizing that her very seriousness is a detriment to Tomas's lightness, dragging him down because her life is heavy with her strength of commitment and political awareness, she leaves him and returns to Prague. But without her, Tomas finds life empty, and he follows her: a move that leads to tragedy.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a thought-provoking look at sexuality and politics, drawing some interesting parallels as to whether one's attitude toward sex spills over into one's attitude toward other things. The sex (and there's lots of it), rather than being voyeuristic or overly mannered, is celebratory. The characters laugh during sex from sheer enjoyment of the act, and it isn't until commitment and social awareness enter the picture that that changes: but even with that, the characters (particularly in the late encounter, erotic rather than sexual, between Tereza and Sabina) are still able to put aside their cares for pure carnal pleasure: but they are never again free of the weight of the changing social strata.

The performances are splendid: It would've been easy for an actor to have made Tomas distinctly dislikable given the characters self-centeredness and the choices he makes, but Daniel Day-Lewis manages to make Tomas endearing despite his foibles. Lena Olin is absolutely wonderful as Sabina, and as always, Juliette Binoche shines as Tereza.

The transfer is on a par with the film's original release to DVD. The image has a soft, film-like quality but is still well contrasted, with strong shadow detail. And the audio is also in excellent condition, free of distortion or deterioration.

The new Special Edition DVD includes an audio commentary by Philip Kaufman, Jean-Claude Carriere, Walter Munch, and Lena Olin, as well as a 30 minutes "making of" documentary, as well as the theatrical trailer.

For more information about The Unbearable Lightness of Being, visit Warner Video. To order The Unbearable Lightness of Being, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter