The problem of coming to terms with reality is the simplest explanation for this blatant, slice of coffee table eroticism-cum-fake European art film directed by American Philip Kaufman.
Lengthily elaborated from Milan Kundera’s bestseller, it concerns womanising surgeon Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) who becomes romantically involved with young waitress Tereza (Juliette Binoche) in Prague in 1968.
Then Soviet tanks invade Czechoslovakia and the lovers are forced to flee.
The most interesting character is Sabina, an earthy, wise and playful artist who is Tomas’ long term lover (attractively portrayed by Lena Olin, even if that bowler hat doesn’t really suit her). On the other hand, Day-Lewis is presumably supposed to come across as a smouldering, charming rogue – instead, he is more like a smug git, totally undeserving of the attention of all those women, which is a problem the film never resolves.
Unfortunately for him, Tomas has previously written an anti-Communist article, which only appears to be a plot device to get the secret police after him when he follows Tereza back home (she can’t cope with the freedom of living in Geneva or being married to Tomas).
After the couple achieves some measure of contentment, the out-of-nowhere “shock” ending feels like a cheat, only added to sustain the depressing atmosphere once the film is over. Three hours is a long time to stay with all this for an ending like that.
Derek De Lint