6 Movies Like The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching The Unbearable Lightness of Being ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

The only Kundera film adaptation frankly hasn’t disproven that the source novel is unfilmable, but The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a pretty decent attempt. While Kundera’s meditations aren’t tackled in full depth, director Philip Kaufman manages to retain enough of the novel’s images to rein in the unwieldy plot, such as Sabina with the mirror, Tereza’s nightmare of naked women, their photography around Sabina’s studio and the black-and-white moment of Prague Spring, where editor Walter Murch adeptly inserts Tereza and Tomas within the historical footage. These images, along with the excellent cast, keep the wistful feeling that haunts Kundera’s novel.

Even before any blood is inevitably shed during A Short Film About Killing (which serves as the expansion of another episode from director Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog miniseries, alongside A Short Film About Love), there's something positively oppressive and sinister even just in the way the movie is shot. Kieślowski and cinematographer Witold Adamek use color filters to make the film deliberately ugly—as if the image is degrading right in front of us. Oftentimes shadows obscure the edges of the frame, shining a sickly yellow spotlight on the characters on screen. It's the perfect way to get right into the heads of these people existing in a lawless land driven by primal instinct.

When crime and punishment finally occur, they're equally difficult to watch unfold, but in different ways. Kieślowski lingers on the details—the tools and processes that we tell ourselves will make the act of killing easier. And what he's ultimately able to expose is how capital punishment has been made to seem humane, just, or necessary, when it's often even more barbaric, cruel, and unproductive than a crime borne of desperation. The very government that does nothing to address the roots of crime is the same one most eager to kill criminals instead.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Aleksander Bednarz, Andrzej Gawroński, Artur Barciś, Barbara Dziekan, Jan Tesarz, Jerzy Zass, Krystyna Janda, Krzysztof Globisz, Leonard Andrzejewski, Małgorzata Pieczyńska, Mirosław Baka, Olgierd Łukaszewicz, Władysław Byrdy, Zbigniew Borek, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Zdzisław Rychter, Zdzisław Tobiasz

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Mike Leigh’s forthright and compassionate depiction of working-class life extends to his period pieces as well. Imelda Staunton is remarkable as Vera Drake, a housekeeper in 1950’s London who quietly performs abortions on the side.

Leigh’s vigilant portrayal of class highlights the stark divide between abortion access for the poor and what is offered to the rich. The storytelling is simple and straightforward, he doesn’t over-sentimentalize or grandstand, but merely depicts conditions as they were. Meanwhile, Staunton’s Vera oozes so much fullness, warmth, and empathy, that the heartbreak that follows is mercilessly palpable. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Allan Corduner, Angela Curran, Anna Keaveney, Anthony O'Donnell, Billie Cook, Billy Seymour, Chris O'Dowd, Craig Conway, Daniel Mays, Eddie Marsan, Eileen Davies, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Fenella Woolgar, Gerard Monaco, Heather Craney, Helen Coker, Imelda Staunton, Jake Wood, James Payton, Jane Wood, Jeffry Wickham, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Griffiths, John Warman, Leo Bill, Lesley Manville, Lesley Sharp, Liz White, Marion Bailey, Martin Savage, Nicholas Jones, Nicky Henson, Nina Fry, Paul Jesson, Paul Raffield, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Richard Graham, Robert Putt, Rosie Cavaliero, Ruth Sheen, Sally Hawkins, Sam Troughton, Sandra Voe, Sid Mitchell, Simon Chandler, Sinéad Matthews, Tilly Vosburgh, Tom Ellis, Vincent Franklin, Vinette Robinson, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy reflects both the colors and the values of the French republic: liberté, égalité, fraternité. In Trois couleurs : Blanc (Three Colors: White), Kieślowski explores not only the theme of equality, but also the ramifications of defining and “achieving” equality as a European ideal.

After failing to consummate their marriage, Dominique (the ever-bewitching Julie Delpy) divorces Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), leaving him broke and humiliated. Karol plots to exact revenge on his ex-wife, becoming richer and cruller in the process. 

Although this is often regarded as the weakest of the trilogy, White is worth a watch not just for completionists. Kieślowski interrogates what it means to be equal in sex and socioeconomic class—and if when we strive to move upward in society, whether we are really debasing our basic humanity and humility.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Aleksander Bardini, Andrzej Precigs, Barbara Dziekan, Bartłomiej Topa, Bozena Szymanska, Cezary Harasimowicz, Cezary Pazura, Florence Pernel, Francis Coffinet, Grażyna Szapołowska, Grzegorz Warchoł, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Nowak, Jerzy Stuhr, Jerzy Trela, Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche, Marzena Trybała, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Piotr Machalica, Piotr Zelt, Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska, Wanda Wróblewska, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Zdzisław Rychter

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

An arguably tough watch, The Accused fluctuates between crime and courtroom drama, eschewing any kind of sentimentality in its storytelling. No place for pity where trauma reigns: the fact that the film is based on a real case of as gang rape means little in a world were that's still a daily occurrence. The Accused knows it well and invests its two protagonist with all the anger in the world, hoping the justice system will be on the right side of history at once: that of women. Two amazing leads set the bar very high: Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis who plays prosecutor Kathryn Murphy. Together, they make a powerful duo of heated performances that embody the contradictions of being a woman under patriarchy.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Allan Lysell, Andrew Kavadas, Ann Hearn, Antony Holland, Babs Chula, Bernie Coulson, Carmen Argenziano, Christianne Hirt, Dana Still, David Sheridan, Denalda Williams, Deryl Hayes, Frances Flanagan, Freda Perry, Garry Chalk, Garwin Sanford, Jerry Wasserman, Jodie Foster, Kelly McGillis, Kevin McNulty, Kim Kondrashoff, Leo Rossi, Linda Darlow, Marsha Andrews, Michele Goodger, Mike Winlaw, Pamela Martin, Peter Bibby, Peter Van Norden, Rebecca Toolan, Rose Weaver, Scott Paulin, Stephen Dimopoulos, Stephen E. Miller, Steve Antin, Terry David Mulligan, Tom Heaton, Tom McBeath, Tom O'Brien, Veena Sood, Walter Marsh, Woody Brown

Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Rating: R

Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, a craggy, lovable English professor struggling to finish the follow-up to a very successful first novel. It has taken him 7 years, and it's an obvious metaphor for his ridiculous life. The character navigates various tragicomic dilemmas with a stellar supporting cast including Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, and Katie Holmes. His editor is Robert Downey Jr. and his nemesis is Rip Torn. Bob Dylan wrote the theme song. How do you not love this movie? It's one of those films that feels like a warm, cozy house (despite the fact that it takes place in a Pittsburgh winter), and it's a great blend of humor and drama.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Tudyk, Bingo O'Malley, Charis Michelsen, Elisabeth Granli, Frances McDormand, George Grizzard, James Ellroy, James Kisicki, Jane Adams, John W. Iwanonkiw, Katie Holmes, Kelly Bishop, Michael Cavadias, Michael Douglas, Philip Bosco, Richard Knox, Richard Thomas, Rip Torn, Rob McElhenney, Robert Downey Jr., Sean King, Tobey Maguire, Victor Quinaz, Yusuf Gatewood

Director: Curtis Hanson

Rating: R

The Reader is a German-American drama from 2008, based on the best-selling novel by author Bernhard Schlink. The storyline begins with adult Michael (Ralph Fiennes) reminiscing about his adolescence in post-World War II Berlin and his fateful relationship with an older woman named Hannah (Kate Winslet). 15-year old Michael is beset by Scarlet Fever and helped off the street one day by Hannah. Taken into her care, they soon begin a passionate affair, quickly forsaking family and friends for every opportunity to ensconce themselves in a world of lust and desire. As their time together progresses, Hannah begins urging Michael to read to her daily—to which he draws from many classic novels and delights in their rich interchange. Hannah suddenly disappears from Michael’s life, however, only reappearing several years later when young law student Michael is stunned to find her facing a World War II war-crimes tribunal. Tied to a real-life series of trials against former Auschwitz employees, The Reader is a strikingly original and exceptionally well-made film that is recommended to those who appreciate sophisticated, emotionally mannered cinema.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexandra Maria Lara, Benjamin Trinks, Bruno Ganz, Burghart Klaussner, Carmen-Maja Antoni, David Kross, Fabian Busch, Florian Bartholomäi, Hannah Herzsprung, Heike Hanold-Lynch, Jeanette Hain, Jürgen Tarrach, Karoline Herfurth, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Block, Lena Olin, Linda Bassett, Ludwig Blochberger, Margarita Broich, Marie Gruber, Martin Brambach, Matthias Habich, Moritz Grove, Ralph Fiennes, Susanne Lothar, Sylvester Groth, Vijessna Ferkic, Volker Bruch

Director: Stephen Daldry

Rating: R