The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Chicago Reader

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Rated R · 173 minutes · 1988

Drama, Romance
Weighing in at 173 minutes, this visually expansive but intellectually and formally simplified adaptation of Milan Kundera's fine novel holds one's interest—thanks in large part to the talented and attractive leads (Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, and Lena Olin) and the polish that cinematographer Sven Nykvist and coscreenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere bring to the occasion. But Philip Kaufman's effort to create a romantic epic around a Czech menage a trois before, during, and after the Russian invasion of 1968 shortchanges the original by making virtually all of the action strictly linear and eliminating most of the essayistic material that is essential to the story's meaning. Arguably, most of the participants make the best of a bad bargain—Day-Lewis does what he can with an underscripted character, and he and the two female stars cope honorably with the unenviable task of speaking English with Czech accents, while Kaufman does a good job of matching his own re-creation of the Russian invasion with newsreel footage. But these achievements and others—including an undeniable erotic charge to some of the scenes—add up to less than the sum of their parts without a strong enough overall vision to shape them. When Kaufman reaches beyond the novel to flesh things out—with the old-fashioned musical taste of Russian officials, the sexual exploits of the hero, or the expanded part of a pet pig—he usually flattens rather than enhances what's left of the material (1988).
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