Pros & Cons at Cinema in English
For his Cinema in English program on May 4th, Will Douglas played hardball. He threw a rippling slow curve with knuckleball effect. With his 171 minute personal favorite distilled from a 314 page novel, Will surely meant to bring forth sharp pro and cons from our film lovers and so he did. In a way the evening pitted Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel against Jean-Claude Carrière’s scripted version for director Philip Kaufman’s 1988 movie. The title itself, serving both, could reasonably be faulted. Wasn’t ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ a pretentious way of describing the dismay of Czech artists and intellectuals in the face of Soviet cold-war policy? They, the cream on top of the nation, no longer set its taste and that was unfortunate for them. There were smashed careers and ruined lives. There was also listless exile that left them orphans with nothing much to do but fornicate. It’s no surprise that some readers and viewers questioned Kundera’s restating these misfortunes in highfalutin philosophical terms. The 20th century had seen worse and more of the same was yet to come.
Jean-Louis Carrière had the impossible task of making a novel that disdained chronology and was in fact an essay sprinkled with moments of drama into a linear story that would stand up as a movie. Kundera, at the height of his prestige just then, insisted that certain of his elucubrations couldn’t be left out. Carrière wasn’t free entirely to recast as straightforward cause-and-effect narrative what was in reality a very centripetal literary exercise. The cons decried the indirection of the circularity while the pros insisted that nevertheless the movie worked thanks to the exquisite photography of Sven Nykvist and the stalwart performances of Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin. Which left us with Will Douglas’ Buddha smile. He was above the fray, but the cause of it, and promised to compensate June 8th with the short and comically sweet ‘A Fish Called Wanda’.