Vantage point

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

If you've read Milan Kundera's classic novel, you will completely understand my skepticism as I picked up the DVD and examined it quizzically. How could anyone be audacious enough to presume he could actually make a film on 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being?". So much of the magic in Kundera's writing is in his observational philosophical expositions. So much of the book's central import came from how Kundera wrote about lightness and weight. Could any film ever capture that?

This film didn't exactly capture it. But then to its credit, it didn't try to. At least not in a way that would make it seem like the director tried too hard. I was half-expecting some sort of narration or voiceover, but fortunately there was no such thing. The film just tells the story of Tomas, Tereza and Sabina. And even just the story is enough to make it a good film. And even telling the story faithfully manages to convey the book's central consciousness.

The casting is almost perfect. Daniel Day Lewis is almost a perfect Tomas, in his sincerity, intensity, integrity as well as his suave flirtations. Len Olin wears Sabina like a second skin. Even the dog chosen to play Karenin is just apt. But the most on-target performance was by Juliette Binoche. She is the perfect Tereza and I am sure even Kundera could not have imagined a better portrayal.

The film does not have many intense or long-winding dialogues and the actors make brilliant use of their facial expressions as well as body language to flesh out the characters faithfully. They are assisted by a seamless screenplay and crisp editing, especially in the final scenes when the linear chronology is abandoned to triumphant effect.

As expected, the film has many love scenes, and all of them are sensuously erotic, and not pedestrian and contrived like in Hollywood. One particular scene featuring Sabina and Tereza, which is technically not even a love scene but more slumber-party-pillow-fight-like in nature, is brilliantly done and both Olin and Binoche excel in portraying the right emotions.

This film is a perfect narration of the story on The Unbearable Lightness.. and any Kundera fan must watch it at once.