Wednesday, May 15, 2013

“He Wanted The Kingdom Of God On Earth”

An outtake from Philip Kaufman’s 1988 film, “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being”.

The scenes depicting the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia were filmed in Lyon.

“The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” is one of the greatest of all American films—yet its sensibility is purely Eastern European. This dichotomy has always fascinated me.

The film is the only one from Kaufman’s work list that is even remotely interesting. Everything else Kaufman directed was commercial hackwork, yet “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” is a masterpiece of cinema. This, too, has always fascinated me.

Is there another American film so multi-layered and so multi-textured? And so subtle?

The first time I saw “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being”, I was floored. I had not believed American cinema was capable of producing something like “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being”.

The film was clearly influenced by the French New Wave, but “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” is much better than anything produced by the filmmakers of the New Wave group. It has largeness of scope, grandeur of vision, generosity of spirit, and technical perfection—qualities far beyond the skill-set of French New Wave directors.

The film was a bomb at the box office worldwide. I would have thought the film to have appeal simply because of its surface love story, yet audiences everywhere stayed away. Perhaps the three-hour length was the problem, or perhaps the overwhelming sadness and melancholy that permeate the film were off-putting.

I have not read the Milan Kundera novel. My mother HAS read the novel, in two translations, French and English, and she says it may be THE great novel of the late 20th Century.

Kundera disliked the film version immensely, despite having had roles as consultant and contributing writer during production. Kundera was so unhappy with the film that he barred all future adaptations of his work.

The first time I saw the film, I almost cried when Tomáš and Tereza died at the end. It was the one and only time in my life when I came close to crying at the movies.

I realized, of course, that their deaths were to be viewed, at least in part, as releases. The deaths occurred only once Tomáš and Tereza had found contentment and happiness after years of turmoil, and only after they had provided for—or buried—everyone important to them.

I realized, too, that the spirits of Tomáš and Tereza were expected to live on in Sabina—and, perhaps, provide Sabina at long last with the grounding she had always lacked.

Nonetheless, I had been unprepared for their deaths. Tomáš and Tereza, beatific looks on their faces, homeward bound after a daylong outing featuring a beautiful celebration, were driving through bucolic countryside during gentle rain showers one minute—and gone the next.

I was shaken.

I had not seen it coming.


  1. It is a very fine film. I believe you would like it.

  2. I recall liking the movie very much. I'll have to watch it again. I'm a big fan of two movies involving Eastern bloc life: "The Lives of Others" and the recent "Barbara." Exceptional films both.