Saturday, August 26, 2006

"THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING"


Daniel Day Lewis, Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Derek de Lint

"A Lovers Story"

Karenin


This film adaptation of the novel by Czech author, Milan Kundera is difficult to describe. I recently read the novel and I loved it. So I bought the film to see if they did justice to this story of very complex literary characters.
A novel by a Czech author, this film was directed by an American Philip Kaufman. It stars actors of various nationalities. Irish Daniel Day Lewis, French Juliette Binoche and Swede Lena Olin. The locale is 1968 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Eastern Europe. A significant period in history. Communist Russia had invaded its neighbor and undertook a complete overhaul of the entire political, cultural and intellectual system.

The 4 main characters of the film have such strong personalities. They tried their best to adapt in their own ways to their new life in a country fraught by a different ideology. Tomas is a brilliant brain surgeon and an incorrigible womanizer. Sabina is his free spirited mistress with a fascination for bowler hats. Tereza, a comely waitress who eventually becomes Tomas' wife. Franz, the married Swiss who falls in love with Sabina. Together, their lives interwine even as they move from their besieged country to escape to Switzerland.
Complicated issues of commitment, the true meaning of sex, their different interpretations of love and their intellectual views on the political system are some of the main topics which occupy their minds.

The film showcases a good glimpse into the troubled times as the Eastern block of Europe falls under the reign of Communism. Black and white shots of the numerous street protests add authenticity. Loud classical music accompany some crucial scenes. This gives the film a very European feel. It is like watching those old black and white French movies where lyrical/dramatic music convey a wide range of emotions. Cinematography is crispy clear with scenes of the Czech countryside. There are also scenes where there is no dialogue and the director just pans across the cobblestoned streets or the sheets of a bed where the lovers had a tryst. These all contribute to turn the film into an arts house production. Running at 171 minutes, you must have an abundant supply of patience to sit through it.

Juliette Binoche is such a refreshing presence on screen, she made Teresa more humane and likeable. Lena Olin is sultry as Sabina. Her accent was great and she sizzles everytime she was in a scene. Of course, Daniel Day Lewis as Tomas is very effectual in his typical subdued acting style. Yet I somehow expected him to have some sort of Eastern European accent. I was disappointed they didn't focus too much on Franz. He was my favorite character in the book. But I guess Kaufman felt it was more important to focus on Tomas and Tereza.

The book was difficult to read. I had to condition my mind to really focus on the different issues Milan Kundera pushed upon his readers. His different explanations of why life is an unbearable lightness made me ponder endlessly way after I had turned the last page of the novel.
Milan Kundera would explain certain aspects of the characters lives then go back and forth in the chapters of the book. He had flashback scenes within a flashback scene itself. In the film, it was a lot more fluid and flowy. Philip Kaufman did not resort to any flashback scenes so it was easier to follow. He fortunately didn't follow the sequencing of the book. The ending although quite sad somehow for me had this surreal tinge of happiness attached to it.

It is a very good adaptation of the novel. I recommend you read the book first before watching the film. It is important you know where the characters are coming from to better understand their somewhat deviant behaviors. But even if you didn't read the novel, the superb acting of the lead stars will entrance you.

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