Milan Kundera’s 1984 international bestseller of love and erotica set against the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia has been regarded as essentially unfilmable by many observers, so Philip Kaufman has pulled off a near-miracle in creating this richly satisfying adaptation.
Tomas, a top surgeon and compulsive ladies’ man in Prague, takes in and eventually marries a lovely country girl, Tereza. He continues his womanizing, however, particularly with his voluptuous mistress Sabina, an artist who takes off for Geneva as soon as Russian tanks put a halt to the Prague Spring of 1968.
The sexuality which drenches the entire film possesses a great buoyancy and spirit in the first act, set during the exciting liberalization of communism under Alexander Dubcek. Second act, in Geneva, is comparatively somber and spare, but is punctuated by Sabina’s new affair with a married man and by the growing friendship between Sabina and Tereza.
As played by Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin, the two women are absolutely enchanting; Binoche is adorably doll-like while Olin is simply striking as a woman who lives her sexual and artistic lives just as she pleases.
Attractive in some ways, Tomas is irritatingly uncommunicative and opaque at others, and Daniel Day-Lewis at times overdoes the self-consciously smug projection of his own appeal.
1988: Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography