The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

R | 172 mins | Drama, Romance | 5 February 1988

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HISTORY

In a 19 Apr 1985 news item, DV announced that Saul Zaentz would independently produce an adaptation of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (New York, 1984), to be directed by Philip Kaufman with private financing. An 8 Feb 1989 Var item noted that $1.8 million was invested by Norway Film Development. Although a 25 May 1985 Screen International brief cited the budget as $5 million, the film ultimately cost around $18 million, according to a 5 Dec 1988 HR “Hollywood Report” column.
       According to a 31 Jan 1988 NYT article, Juliette Binoche was cast as “Tereza” two weeks before the start of production, despite her weak command of English. The film marked her English language feature film debut, as noted in a 7 Mar 1988 W article. Also just weeks before production, actress Lena Olin gave birth; therefore, she had to lose weight very quickly for the role of “Sabina,” who appears naked in several scenes. Although Var briefs from 8 Oct 1986 and 15 Oct 1986 reported that actress Laura Betti had been cast, she was not credited onscreen.
       Although producer Saul Zaentz had previously made Amadeus (1984, see entry) in Czechoslovakia, where most of the story of The Unbearable Lightness of Being is set, the country was not considered as a filming location due to its official ban on Milan Kundera’s works, as noted in the 31 Jan 1988 NYT. Yugoslavia was considered as an alternative, but nixed on the basis that its government would not allow filming of the Soviet invasion ... More Less

In a 19 Apr 1985 news item, DV announced that Saul Zaentz would independently produce an adaptation of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (New York, 1984), to be directed by Philip Kaufman with private financing. An 8 Feb 1989 Var item noted that $1.8 million was invested by Norway Film Development. Although a 25 May 1985 Screen International brief cited the budget as $5 million, the film ultimately cost around $18 million, according to a 5 Dec 1988 HR “Hollywood Report” column.
       According to a 31 Jan 1988 NYT article, Juliette Binoche was cast as “Tereza” two weeks before the start of production, despite her weak command of English. The film marked her English language feature film debut, as noted in a 7 Mar 1988 W article. Also just weeks before production, actress Lena Olin gave birth; therefore, she had to lose weight very quickly for the role of “Sabina,” who appears naked in several scenes. Although Var briefs from 8 Oct 1986 and 15 Oct 1986 reported that actress Laura Betti had been cast, she was not credited onscreen.
       Although producer Saul Zaentz had previously made Amadeus (1984, see entry) in Czechoslovakia, where most of the story of The Unbearable Lightness of Being is set, the country was not considered as a filming location due to its official ban on Milan Kundera’s works, as noted in the 31 Jan 1988 NYT. Yugoslavia was considered as an alternative, but nixed on the basis that its government would not allow filming of the Soviet invasion sequence.
       Principal photography on the seventeen-week shoot began 15 Sep 1986 in Dijon and Luxiel, France, as noted in the 15 Oct 1986 Var. Lyons, France, stood in for Prague, Czechoslovakia, while interiors were filmed at a Paris, France, studio, and at Boulogne Studios in Boulogne-Billancourt, according to a 4 Feb 1987 Var brief. Shooting also took place in Geneva, Switzerland, and post-production was done in Berkeley, CA.
       To recreate the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, director Philip Kaufman blended archival films taken by Czech citizens with new footage that was “degraded in the lab” to match the archival material, as noted in a 26 Jan 1988 LAT article. Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that Soviet tanks in working condition were rented from the French Military Museum in Saumur, and French soldiers were recruited to operate them. Kaufman noted in the 31 Jan 1988 NYT that he did not want to stage additional violence, and the dead bodies shown were of real life protestors who had been shot by Russian soldiers.
       A 7 Dec 1987 DV item announced that Orion Pictures had acquired North American theatrical, non-theatrical, free television and home video rights for the film. Although a 29 Jan 1988 release was planned, the film came out one week later on 5 Feb 1988.
       According to an 11 Jul 1990 Var news item, Zaentz refused to show the film at Czechoslovakia’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival, due to a previous quarrel with the director-general of Czechoslovak Film Export, Jiri Janousek. A 5 Jul 1990 LAT news item claimed that Zaentz had accused Janousek of wanting to show the film to the newly liberal Czech government in order to “secure his position within it.”
       According to the 5 Dec 1988 HR, the film was well received by many U.S. critics but failed at the domestic box office. It fared better overseas, especially in Singapore, where it surpassed Jaws (1975, see entry) as the longest running film in the country’s history to that time, as noted in an undated HR article circa Apr 1990. The film won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Adapted Screenplay, and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography. It received Academy Award nominations for Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), and Cinematography. The Golden Globe Awards nominated The Unbearable Lightness of Being for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Lena Olin).
       End credits contain the following statements: “Filmed with the assistance of: Norway Film Developmentment Company A/S; French National Center of Cinematography; French National Railroads, S.N.C.F., SIPA Press; Magnum Press; Europe 1; Members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Vance George, Conductor; Pan American Airlines; Bouzy Travel, Paris”; “Photographs used in the film: Man Ray, Courtesy of ADAGP; Bill Brandt, Courtesy of Mrs. Bill Brandt”; and, “Paperback available from Harper & Row, Publishers.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
19 Apr 1985.
---
Daily Variety
7 Dec 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 1988
p. 3, 13.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Dec 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
ca. Apr 1990.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 Jan 1988
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
5 Feb 1988
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
5 Jul 1990.
---
New York
15 Feb 1988
p. 74.
New York Times
31 Jan 1988
Section A, p. 19.
New York Times
5 Feb 1988
p. 8.
Screen International
25 May 1985.
---
Variety
1 May 1985.
---
Variety
8 Oct 1986.
---
Variety
15 Oct 1986.
---
Variety
4 Feb 1987.
---
Variety
3 Feb 1988
p. 14.
Variety
8 Feb 1989.
---
Variety
11 Jul 1990.
---
W
7 Mar 1988.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
The Saul Zaentz Company Presents
A Philip Kaufman Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
3d asst dir
3d asst dir
Prod mgr, U.S. prod crew
1st asst dir, U.S. prod crew
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Still photog
Spec photog
Cam op, 1st cam crew
Focus puller, 1st cam crew
Cam loader, 1st cam crew
Cam op, 2d cam crew
Focus puller, 2d cam crew
Cam asst, 2d cam crew
Cam op, 2d unit photog
Cam asst, 2d unit photog
Video playback, Addl cam crew
Video playback, Addl cam crew
Gaffer
Rigging gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Grip
Chief elec
Rigging elec
Generator op
Dir of photog, U.S. prod crew
Asst cam, U.S. prod crew
Key grip, U.S. prod crew
Grip/Driver, U.S. prod crew
Gaffer, U.S. prod crew
Elec, U.S. prod crew
Best boy, U.S. prod crew
Cams supplied by
Negative developed at
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir exteriors
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Asst des
Asst des
Art dept trainee
Sculptor
Storyboard artist
Sketch artist
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed, Post prod crew
Film ed, Post prod crew
Film ed, Post prod crew
Asst film ed, Post prod crew
Asst film ed, Post prod crew
Asst film ed, Post prod crew
Asst film ed, Post prod crew
Asst film ed, Post prod crew
Apprentice film ed, Post prod crew
All film ed, sd ed, and Dolby Stereo mix completed
SET DECORATORS
Sabina's paintings are the work of
Prop master
Prop master
Propman
Asst props
Mirror artist
Set dresser
Set dresser
Leadman locs
Leadman locs
Asst leadman
Const mgr
Chief carpenter
Chief const grip
Chief painter
Prop master, U.S. prod crew
Asst props, U.S. prod crew
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
Asst to Ann Roth
Costumer
Costumer
Costumer
Ward asst
Ward trainee
Ward supv, U.S. prod crew
MUSIC
Swiss mus comp and arr by
Mus rec, Post prod crew
Asst mus ed, Post prod crew
Selected and edited by
Orig mus & arr
SOUND
Sd asst
Sd rec, U.S. prod crew
Boom op, U.S. prod crew
Supv sd ed, Post prod crew
Supv rerec mixer, Post prod crewq
Rerec mixer, Post prod crew
Rerec mixer, Post prod crew
Supv dial ed, Post prod crew
Dial ed, Post prod crew
Dial ed, Post prod crew
Dial ed, Post prod crew
Dial ed, Post prod crew
Dial ed, Post prod crew
Asst dial ed, Post prod crew
Asst dial ed, Post prod crew
Dial ed, Post prod crew
Asst dial ed, Post prod crew
Asst dial ed, Post prod crew
Asst dial ed, Post prod crew
Apprentice dial ed, Post prod crew
Apprentice dial ed, Post prod crew
ADR ed, Post prod crew
Asst ADR, Post prod crew
Sd eff rec, Post prod crew
Sd eff ed, Post prod crew
Sd eff ed, Post prod crew
Asst sd eff, Post prod crew
Asst sd eff, Post prod crew
Asst sd eff, Post prod crew
Asst sd eff, Post prod crew
Apprentice sd eff, Post prod crew
Foley artist, Post prod crew
Foley ed, Post prod crew
Foley ed, Post prod crew
Foley ed, Post prod crew
Asst foley ed, Post prod crew
Asst foley ed, Post prod crew
Apprentice foley, Post prod crew
Foley eng, Post prod crew
Asst foley eng, Post prod crew
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Title des by
Titles by
MAKEUP
Chief hairdresser
Asst hairdresser
Makeup artist
Asst makeup
Hair & makeup artist, U.S. prod crew
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting U.S. & England
Casting France
Asst casting U.S.
Asst casting France
Asst extras casting France
Spec adv
Unit mgr
Unit mgr
Loc unit mgr
Loc unit mgr
Loc unit mgr
Asst unit mgr
Asst unit mgr
Asst unit mgr
Admin coord
Scr cont
Prod coord
Asst to the prod
Asst to Philip Kaufman
Financial controller
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Pub relations U.S.
Pub relations international
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod secy
Prod trainee
Prod trainee
Surgical consultant
Dial coach
Czech coach
Animal coord
Animal coord
Paris catering
Loc catering
Catering coord
Period vehicles
Action tanks
Action tanks
Casting, U.S. prod crew
Scr supv, U.S. prod crew
Animal wrangler, U.S. prod crew
Prod asst, U.S. prod crew
Prod asst, U.S. prod crew
Geneva prod crew
Geneva prod crew
Geneva prod crew
Geneva prod crew
Geneva prod crew
Geneva prod crew
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
The Saul Zaentz Film Center staff
U.S. prod services
U.S. prod services
STAND INS
Daniel Day-Lewis stand-in
Daniel Day-Lewis stand-in
Juliette Binoche stand-in
Juliette Binoche stand-in
Lena Olin stand-in
Derek de Lint stand-in
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (New York, 1984).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
5 February 1988
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 5 February 1988
Production Date:
15 September 1986--January 1987 in France and Switzerland
Copyright Claimant:
The Saul Zaentz Company
Copyright Date:
7 June 1988
Copyright Number:
PA371962
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and camera by Panavision®; Prints by Deluxe®
Duration(in mins):
172
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Norway, France, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28966
SYNOPSIS

In 1968 Prague, Czechoslovakia, Tomas is a young brain surgeon and womanizer who views the political tensions under his country’s Soviet-influenced Communist government with amused detachment. After travelling to a spa town to perform a surgery, he attempts to seduce a charming waitress named Tereza but stops short when he learns that she lives with her mother. Although he says he might come back, Tereza does not believe him. Soon after, Tereza surprises Tomas by showing up at his apartment. He invites her in and instructs her to take off her clothes, a command he uses with all of his lovers. Tereza sneezes, saying she caught a cold on the train, and Tomas offers to examine her. While she initially resists his attempts to undress her, Tereza eventually succumbs to his seduction and kisses him. After they make love, Tomas wakes to find a sleeping Tereza clutching his hand. He receives a job offer in Geneva, Switzerland, that the chief surgeon at his hospital urges him to take, warning that a Soviet invasion is imminent. However, Tomas does not feel the need to leave. Allowing Tereza to stay at his apartment, Tomas continues his other dalliances, including an ongoing affair with Sabina, an artist whose defining detail, according to Tomas, is the black derby hat she inherited from her grandfather. After sleeping together one day, Tomas asks Sabina to help Tereza, who is an amateur photographer. Later, he introduces the two women at Sabina’s apartment, where Tereza takes notice of the derby hat. Back at Tomas’s apartment, Tereza wakes from a nightmare in which Tomas forced her to watch him make love to Sabina. After she recounts the dream, ... +


In 1968 Prague, Czechoslovakia, Tomas is a young brain surgeon and womanizer who views the political tensions under his country’s Soviet-influenced Communist government with amused detachment. After travelling to a spa town to perform a surgery, he attempts to seduce a charming waitress named Tereza but stops short when he learns that she lives with her mother. Although he says he might come back, Tereza does not believe him. Soon after, Tereza surprises Tomas by showing up at his apartment. He invites her in and instructs her to take off her clothes, a command he uses with all of his lovers. Tereza sneezes, saying she caught a cold on the train, and Tomas offers to examine her. While she initially resists his attempts to undress her, Tereza eventually succumbs to his seduction and kisses him. After they make love, Tomas wakes to find a sleeping Tereza clutching his hand. He receives a job offer in Geneva, Switzerland, that the chief surgeon at his hospital urges him to take, warning that a Soviet invasion is imminent. However, Tomas does not feel the need to leave. Allowing Tereza to stay at his apartment, Tomas continues his other dalliances, including an ongoing affair with Sabina, an artist whose defining detail, according to Tomas, is the black derby hat she inherited from her grandfather. After sleeping together one day, Tomas asks Sabina to help Tereza, who is an amateur photographer. Later, he introduces the two women at Sabina’s apartment, where Tereza takes notice of the derby hat. Back at Tomas’s apartment, Tereza wakes from a nightmare in which Tomas forced her to watch him make love to Sabina. After she recounts the dream, Tomas soothes her back to sleep. Tereza continues to take photographs on the streets of Prague, and her work is published in a magazine. She celebrates with Tomas, Sabine, and Tomas’s co-workers at a dancehall. Noticing a group of Communist government officials, Tomas calls them scoundrels. At the officials’ urging, the band plays a Communist anthem, prompting young dancers to boo and clear the floor. The chief surgeon and a young doctor, Jiri, discuss the atrocities committed by their government during its Stalinist period. Tomas suggests they did not know what they were doing and likens them to “King Oedipus,” who tore his eyes out once he realized he had killed his father and was sleeping with his own mother. The chief surgeon suggests Tomas write about the theory, but the younger doctor claims he does not care enough about politics. As Tereza dances with Jiri, Tomas becomes jealous. Back at their apartment, he admits he thought about Jiri being her lover, and Tereza is thrilled to have made him jealous. She tackles Tomas and asks him to marry her. Soon after, the couple weds in a small ceremony, with one of Tomas’s patients, Pavel, and Pavel’s pet pig acting as witnesses. Afterward, at a bar, a young woman sells puppies and Tereza insists they take one. Although it is a female, Tomas names the dog “Karenin” after “Anna Karenina’s” husband, since Tereza was reading Anna Karenina when they first met. As the chief surgeon suggested, Tomas writes an article comparing the Communist government to Oedipus and his friend agrees to publish it. One day, while swimming laps, Tereza has a vision of Tomas leering at naked women. He comes home late that night, and she begs him to involve her in his affairs. Tomas denies his infidelity but she says he cannot hide it. As she leaves the apartment in tears, he follows her and they both stop at the sight of Soviet tanks moving down the street. The next day, Tereza takes pictures of protestors who have swarmed the tanks. Passing by on her way to Switzerland, Sabina warns Tereza and Tomas to be careful. Tereza continues to take photographs as shots are fired at protestors. She gives a Dutch tourist her film, urging him to publish the photographs back in the Netherlands. Tomas tries to catch up with Tereza as a soldier points a gun at her and she points her camera back at him. Later, Tereza’s remaining photographs are seized and she is questioned in court. In Geneva, Switzerland, Sabina begins an affair with a married professor named Franz, whose political idealism clashes with her indifference. Sometime later, Tomas accepts the job in Geneva and moves there with Tereza and Karenin. Tereza tries to submit photographs of the recent Soviet invasion to a newspaper, but they reject them, claiming the story is old. Tomas rekindles his affair with Sabina, who tells him about Franz, saying she adores him although he dislikes her derby hat. When Tereza gets a call from one of the newspaper editors who believes she has a talent for nude photography, she seeks out Sabina as a model. At Sabina’s apartment, Tereza snaps numerous nude photographs of Tomas’s lover, then Sabina turns the camera around on her, commanding her to undress. As the women frolic around the apartment, Franz interrupts. Tereza runs to get dressed, and Franz informs Sabina that he has left his wife. She cries and embraces him. He promises to return the next day with the rest of his things and leaves. In the morning, however, Franz finds that Sabina has emptied the apartment and vanished. Tomas meets Sabina for a rendezvous at her hotel room. Later, Tereza tells him that life is too heavy for her, while it is light for him. She insists she has been weighing him down and says she is weak and will therefore return to Czechoslovakia, the country of the weak. On the train back to Prague, Tereza’s passport and camera are seized. Following her into the country, Tomas gives up his passport as well, and the couple reunites at their old apartment. Tomas returns to his former job, but the chief surgeon alerts him that he must sign a retraction, claiming he no longer believes what he wrote in his article about Oedipus and the Czech government. Soon after, a representative of the ministry of the interior comes to interview Tomas and produces another declaration for him to sign. Instead of acquiescing, Tomas quits and takes a job as a window washer. Working at a restaurant, Tereza meets an attractive engineer, who gives her his address as he leaves. After Tomas comes home smelling like another woman, Tereza goes to the engineer’s apartment but feels uncomfortable as he undresses her. She suspects someone is watching, but he denies it. After having sex with him, Tereza discusses the experience with another customer of hers, a former ambassador, who warns that the engineer may have been a government spy who filmed the interaction to blackmail her. Tomas finds Tereza crying by a river. She says she wants to leave, but he reminds her their passports are gone. The couple goes to a small village where Pavel, Tomas’s former patient, runs a farm. Living with Pavel, they embrace the country life and Karenin befriends Pavel’s pig. One day, they notice Karenin limping and soon discover the dog has cancer. Tormented by the news, Tereza suggests her love for Karenin is superior to her love for Tomas because she is not jealous of the animal. Tomas decides to end the dog’s pain, and on his way to retrieve a syringe, he discovers some of the nude photographs that Tereza took of Sabina. Before Tomas administers the injection, Tereza exclaims that Karenin is smiling. One day, Pavel’s nephew dislocates his shoulder and Tomas comes to his rescue. The patient ogles Tereza and says her beauty makes him want to dance. Tereza encourages everyone to go dancing, so they drive to a hotel, taking the pig with them. Since he is driving, Tomas rejects Pavel’s offer of a drink, but Pavel encourages him and Tereza to stay the night at the hotel. Sometime later, Sabina paints at a country home while a couple of American patrons observe her. She receives a letter from Pavel, stating that Tereza and Tomas have died in a car accident. On the night before their death, Teresa and Tomas flirt as they head upstairs to their hotel room. In the morning, as they drive home in the rain, Tereza kisses Tomas and asks him what he is thinking. He replies that he is thinking how happy he is. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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