Kundera: Sexed-Up and Simplified


Widely acclaimed upon its 1988 release, Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Milan Kundera’s best-known novel, set partially against the backdrop of the 1968 Prague Spring, is less distillation than simplification. Kaufman and co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriére make little attempt to grapple with the formal and intellectual complexity of Kundera’s work, essentially punting on the ever daunting challenge of translating first-rate postmodern fiction to the screen. The novel’s complex, spiral narrative is tamed here into a neat, chronological story centered on an erotic triangle with womanizing surgeon Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) at its pivot. Taken for what it is, a handsomely mounted Saul Zaentz prestige picture, Kaufman’s film isn’t bad, getting by on the attractiveness of both Sven Nykvist’s cinematography and its three leads—Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche as eventual wife Tereza, and Lena Olin, in an especially fine performance as Tomas’s lover-confidante Sabina—and seldom dragging even at nearly three hours. Still, fans of Kundera’s worldview-altering novel are sure to miss the author’s philosophical digressions and genuinely thought-provoking ruminations on kitsch. Extras include audio commentary by Kaufman, Carriére, Olin, and editor Walter Murch.

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