Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present our first movie of 2023: a 35th anniversary screening of Philip Kaufman’s erotic masterpiece, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, adapted from the acclaimed novel by Czech author Milan Kundera. Kaufman wrote the screenplay with veteran French writer Jean-Claude Carriere (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Tin Drum, The Return of Martin Guerre), and they earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay of 1988. The film earned a second Oscar nod for the stunning cinematography by Sven Nykvist. The screening is Wednesday, April 12, at 7 PM at our Royal Theatre in West L.A. Film critic Stephen Farber will attend to moderate a Q&A with co-star Lena Olin, who will join via Zoom.
Set in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring of 1968 and the brutal Soviet invasion that followed, the film follows the romantic and political adventures of a lusty surgeon named Tomas. Three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis had his first starring role in the picture, after earning attention for his strong supporting performances in A Room With a View and My Beautiful Laundrette two years earlier. One year after Unbearable, Day-Lewis earned his first Oscar for his performance in My Left Foot. The two important women in Tomas’s life are portrayed by Lena Olin as an artist and Juliette Binoche as an aspiring photographer. Eventually Tomas marries Binoche’s Tereza, but she remains troubled by his constant philandering.
Olin had first made her mark in several plays and films directed by Ingmar Bergman, and after Unbearable, she appeared in many important films all over the world. Binoche was a newer face in 1988, but she too went on to become a major international star. A decade later she won an Oscar in another acclaimed adaptation, The English Patient. The international supporting cast of Unbearable includes Derek de Lint, Erland Josephson, Stellan Skarsgård, and Donald Moffat. Award-winning editor Walter Murch cut the film and Saul Zaentz and Paul Zaentz produced.
The story begins as an erotic comedy but takes a darker turn during the Russian invasion. Kaufman took a unique approach in dramatizing this traumatic event, blending newsreel footage of the invasion with staged scenes that were actually filmed in Paris (since Czechoslovakia remained under Soviet rule when filming commenced in 1986). When Tomas refuses to denounce his own anti-Russian writing from before the invasion, he loses his job, and he and Tereza must struggle to survive.
Critical response to the film was overwhelmingly positive. Variety called Unbearable “a richly satisfying adaptation.” The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley agreed that Kaufman’s film was an “eloquent adaptation of Milan Kundera’s erotic novel” and added that the film “stirs the heart, the hormones and the head.” Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert declared, “What is remarkable… is not the sexual content itself, but the way Kaufman has been able to use it as an avenue for a complex story, one of nostalgia, loss, idealism and romance.”
Lena Olin will participate in a Q&A before the screening on April 12. To recall some of Olin’s many other credits, she earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in Paul Mazursky’s Enemies: A Love Story and also co-starred in such films as Romeo is Bleeding, Havana, Night Falls on Manhattan, the Oscar-winning The Reader, and Chocolat and Casanova, both directed by her husband, Lasse Hallstrom. During our conversation Olin will also discuss her newest film with Hallstrom, the biographical drama Hilma, opening at the Royal and Town Center on April 14.