Philip Kaufman is a director who clearly relishes a challenge. His last film. The Right 5me 1983 ). was an exhilarating three-hour adaptation of'l‘om Wolfe's freewheeling bestseller about test pilot (‘huck Yeager and the early years of the Ame riean space programme.
Rather than restore his energies by concentrating on a smaller scale work. Kaufman has now turned his attention to Milan Kundera’s ‘unfilmable' novel The ( 'nheuruh/e Lightness (if-Being and produced something that retains the sweeping scope of The Right Stuffbut allies it to a deeper humanity and compassion. The result is being universally hailed as a masterpiece.
The (. 'nbeuruh/e lightness ()th'fllf" is. first and foremost. a love story. set in Czechoslovakia against a backdrop of political turbulence during the Prague Spring and subsequent Soviet invasion in August 1968. Daniel Day-[.ewis plays 'I'omas. a prominent brain surgeon and womaniser who refuses to commit himselro any of the passionate encounters sprinkled throughout his life. 'l‘he painter Sabina (Lena ()lin) also believes in the wisdom of excluding love from sex and their compatibility is ensured by this shared philosophy.
When he is called upon to perform an operation in a small spa town 'l'omas meets the doe-like 'I’ercza (Juliette Binoche) and is characteristically smitten. She follows him to Prague and they become permanent lovers. violating his strict rule that he never spends an entire night with any woman. llis emotional turmoil and stirring of personal commitment is reflecte in the brief flurry of liberalisation that his country endures but the rarnificiations of the Soviet invasion test his moral integrity and capacity for love.
The task of bringing Kundera’s novel to the screen was one that Kaufman shared with veteran scenarist Jean-Claude ('arriere. The problems of adaptation were many and varied. beginning with the vexed question ofwhether to retain the original title. ‘We talked about
changing it and Kundera had experimented with a different title; it was once called The Planet of Inexperienee — signifying that we never learn anything on this planet. We talked of The Libertine and the
Daniel Day-Lewis plays the philanderer. and director. Philip Kaufman is unashamedly unfaithful to the novel. They spoke to Allan Hunterabout The Unbearable Lightness ()fBeing.
word womaniser but that became too
popular in America with (iary l lart. But the producer Saul Zaentz decided. and rightly so. to keep the original.‘
()ne of the most encouraging aspects of working on the script was the understanding and supportive attitude of Kundera himself. "l'he book is an elliptical book. it has a musical structure to it setting forth
the theme then re-analysing it almost 1
in a kind of psychological Rushomon way. Jean-Claude Carriere and I decided that with a complex book like this we would have to approach things simply. We would have to find other rhythms that would substitute for the rhythms in the music of the book. When we first went to meet Kundera he leaned forward and said a word I‘d never heard a novelist say to a screenwriter before and that word was eliminate. Milan is a screenwriter himself. taught screenwriting and was Milos Forman’s professor at school and he has a sense of what must happen. ()ne ofthe first things I said to him after that was “I‘m going to violate your book'. and he loved the word violate. In one way we had to be
unfaithful to the book to be true to its 2
spirit and maybe we had to approach the screenplay almost like the Sabina character in the book.‘
Early on. Kaufman and Zaentz made the choice not to cast stars as a protection against the considerable $17 million investment. Lena ()lin is a member of Bergman‘s theatrical company. Juliette Binoche was last seen in Leos (.‘arax‘s The .\'ight is Young and Daniel Day-Lewis was not the most immediate choice to play Tomas. ‘I had almost given tip finding a Tomas when l was in a hotel room in London and turned on the television set and there was this bald-headed guy who was playing Mayakovsky in The Futurists and there was something about his look — a little wildness and sexuality and a
6'l‘he List is — 2s April 1988
sense of humour that told me he might be right.‘
Daniel Day-Lewis now admits that he was ignorant of Kundera's work when first approached about the film. ‘I didn‘t even know of his existence. 'l'his first came about by meeting Phil and Saul. then reading the book. then the script. then everything I could lay my hands on.‘
Day-l .ewis was coached in a ( ‘/.ech accent by Illizabeth Pursey of RADA and eagerly immersed himself in creating the character of 'l‘omas. ‘Kundera doesth really tell you very much about him. He gives you some details of is life btit he always remains a kind ofciphcr into which you either pour your ow n ideas or through which you see Kundera‘s ideas. I went to Prague for a couple of weeks before I made the film. 'l‘he preparation I do is an absolute confusion and if I went through the details of it it would just sound like a shopping list and that would make it very mundane. ()vcrriding all that is a kind of central mystery which you're unaccountable for and that's whether any of this stuff is of any use and whether the end product justifies the groping around that you do.‘
After his contrasting breakthrough performances in .lIy li’euuti/u/ [.tttttttfrt'ltt’ and :1 Room H't‘t/t :1 View. Day-[.ewis seems intent on stamping every new role with his individuality and versatility. like Kaufman. he relishes a challenge and is unwilling to repeat himself. The character of'l‘omas is certainly worlds removed from the 3 Englishman abroad in Stars and Burs.liisotlier1988 release. ‘It does seem to be true that I‘m most interested by lives of people that are fairly far removed from my own and fairly far removed from the other lives I‘ve been engaged by at one time or another. ldon't positively go in search of it. After the period of internment. of laying to rest. I do feel spurred to move on. not to l immediately re-investigate the kind ' of wasteland of missed i
opportunities. I often feel very reluctant to let go. btit that's