The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a 1988 film adaptation of the novel by Milan Kundera. A film that really is quite a departure from the novel but stands as a work of art in its own right. Incidentally, Milan Kundera, the author, does not agree with me, he so disapproved of the translation that he has allowed no further adaptations of his work.
I love and admire both the book and the film in their own right, but it is Jean-Claude Carriere’s adaptation and Philip Kaufman’s film of the novel that has captured my imagination and my heart; it has produced resonances that have stayed with me since I first saw it, seemingly transmuting its meaning according to whatever situation I have found myself in life as I have aged.
Set in Czechoslovakia and Paris during the Prague Spring of 1968, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the story of three people – Tomas a surgeon; his wife Tereza, a photographer; and Tomas’ lover, bohemian artist, Sabina. Tomas a lothario figure engages in numerous sexual encounters and lives life “lightly” floating from one encounter to the next, he is best understood by his lover Sabina who cannot commit to a relationship and struggles both in her personal life and through her artwork against her interpretation of “kitsch” – the commonplace, the imitated, the reproduced, the tasteless. Sabina is always leaving, never able to commit to a relationship or place. Tereza, who in many ways is the anchor for the film, seeks permanence and security, a woman who loves her husband unreservedly and who doesn’t understand Tomas’ frequent philandering.
As a philosophical film it highlights life’s impermanence and questions the nature of love. It is a very rare film which can be viewed over the period of many years, with each viewing offering a different vision, a different viewpoint on the same subject; usually this is the domain of the theatre, where each production, each collaboration can accentuate different elements of the text, each character is interpreted differently, each relationship investigated from a singular perspective, each performance: a new and unique experience. In film, once the performances are captured and the editing complete, a film has told its story and is done, the performances cannot change, the relationships do not alter from what has been trapped upon the celluloid; and yet somehow this doesn’t seem to hold true in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Such is the nature of this movie, that each time I view it, it tells a different tale, braces the theme in a new way and evokes different feelings. The way an artwork is perceived is a relationship between the artist(s) and the person beholding the work, the result being the synergy of the artist(s) intentions and that which the beholder brings to the work. It would defy logic that I could have changed so drastically that I have altered the substance of the work itself; and yet so it seems.
It is the wonderful translation, deft direction and terrific performances that makes The Unbearable Lightness of Being one of my favorite films and one that comes highly recommended.
SIMONS EASTER EGG
One of my fave Aussie tunes from 1977