The Unbearable Lightness of Being : A Review

Director: Philip Kaufman
Writers: Milan Kundera (novel), Jean-Claude Carrière (screenplay)
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin
How does one look at “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”?
Is it about how human beings negotiate with choices in the midst of a totalitarian regime that increasingly ceases to grant any choices anymore?
Or is it about how happiness is sought and found when a man retreats from the unbearable heaviness of the world outside into the folds of private emotions?
Or is it about the tiny little pockets of sanity, of paradisiac peace residing in the rural interiors of a ravished nation from where escape is impossible?
Perhaps, it is all about how
human beings deal with the transient momentariness of existence, desperately trying to assert their presence despite their consciousness of its futility.
A story about an accomplished man Tomas who sees life and sexuality through lightened perception, his wife Teresa for whom fidelity appears to be her terrible weakness and his beloved mistress Sabina for whom life is a painting where she holds the brush (or the jet spray if she needs to), “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is a meandering journey that explores the limit of transgressions and the bounds of faith.
At the same time the film portrays both public and private consequences of the Russian invasion of Prague. The camera and the pen are seen as weapons of insurgence, free thinking intellectuals are seen as voices of dissent. Strangely, the turbulent political condition becomes an adhering factor for the estranged couple who realize the pettiness of private conflicts.
“Life is very heavy to me, but it is so light to you. I can’t bear this lightness, this freedom… I’m not strong enough.”
Tereza descends to the chthonic depths to assert her equality, only to be more miserable. She finds herself floating on water, and finds herself as unbearably light as her man.
The rustic country side becomes an idyllic escape that the whispering lullaby much early in the script had hinted at when Tomas soothed Tereza’s shivering heart, scared to lose her man to other women:
“You can sleep. Sleep in my arms. Like a baby bird. Like a broom among brooms… in a broom closet. Like a tiny parrot. Like a whistle. Like a little song. A song sung by a forest… within a forest… a thousand years ago.”
On the other hand we see the eternally fleeting figure of Sabina, representing the newly emergent convention of feminist empowerment, only to show how all her escapades had been a failed journey.
The characters are set against fate, yet desperately trying to exercise whatever little choices they have; be it putting an ailing dog to final sleep, crumbling a piece of paper that would guarantee forged freedom or walking up a flight of steps towards an unknown room to test one’s limits of endurance. The tragic end does bring in a cathartic conclusion, the last few seconds lingering on happiness and fulfilment instead of loss and futility.
I have not read the novel by Milan Kundera, so I am not fit enough to comment on how faithful the director had been. However, as an independent work, this film definitely deserves appreciation. One finds remarkable use of camera and post production editing, the occasional use of monochrome, representation of sexual intimacy on screen which does not evoke disgust but rather gels with the narrative and a superb cast to represent subtlest shades of emotions.
A great watch, especially if one feels doubtful about flipping the pages of a ponderous text on paper.

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