Daniel Day-Lewis did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Watching this film made me think of the single performance by Daniel Day-Lewis that I've seen where I was underwhelmed by his work, this isn't some cryptic warning for the rest of the review by the way. That performance though is his work in Nine where he was miscast as the dazed Italian director Guido. Now it is easy enough to say that was a bad film, but I started thinking what was it that made Day-Lewis seem miscast there. It may have been the nature of the role of Guido who has a lack of urgency right to the point that a major plot facet of that film is that Guido never even completes his film that he's suppose to be making. That is in contrast to Day-Lewis's other performances where you can find some urgency or at least some purpose even in the most constricted of situations. It got me thinking and that perhaps Day-Lewis needs most of all to be an active performer, and this is not in regards to reactions either. Day-Lewis has one of the greatest reactions in all of cinema on his resume, but rather it is this passiveness was required in Guido that was ill-fitting to Day-Lewis's methods as an actor. Now the reason that got me thinking was here was again a part of a man who partially lets others react around him, but also is a Lothario.
The film focuses on Tomas and the two women in his life the sexually liberated artist Sabina (Lena Olin), and the far more conservative and shy waitress/inspiring photographer Tereza (Juliette Binoche). Now in terms of the film the women are as important as Tomas, in fact there are substantial portions of the film where Day-Lewis is absent, but I digress. The nature of Tomas as a womanizer is very specific here, and fortunately for Day-Lewis it requires often a more active approach. Now in part this does rely on Day-Lewis being a naturally charismatic and attractive to which women are just simply drawn to him. These are the least interesting parts to Day-Lewis's performance actually as again Day-Lewis seems almost to dislike the idea of easy ways out in terms of acting. Thankfully though the more active performer is required in creating the two distinct relationships between the two women. In his scenes with Olin, Day-Lewis emphasizes very much the lust, and with Olin develops well this spirit of antagonism within that which effectively alludes to the way this fuels their flames essentially. These moments are particularly direct with both actors showing there is no time wasted as the two give in quickly to the pleasure with one another in passionate though purposefully limited fashion.
That is in sharp contrast to the relationship with Binoche's Tereza which Day-Lewis portrays initially as Tomas approaching her in a similair way he would any other one of his "conquests". Day-Lewis though naturally realizes the way this changes though as Tereza reveals her hesitations but also desire for a deeper interaction with him. Day-Lewis is very good in portraying a gentler, less lustful, side to Tomas in these moments finding these reactionary moments of the man moving from lust to love, and bringing a real gentle quality to even their sexually charged scenes. In these moments Day-Lewis presents this patience of the man conveying a deeper relationship there. His and Binoche's chemistry works quite well in throughout the film building the two's connection from moment to moment. Although their relationship is frequently challenged by the Soviets, and Tomas's infidelity the two find the foundation of a genuine warmth and affection. In the moments where Tereza questions Tomas's actions even, Day-Lewis is quite good actually by not portraying shame, but rather presenting a man who doesn't designate a deeper importance to sex unlike Tereza. The depth instead comes from the two just being together, and both actors excel in realizing that joy and more so comfort in each other's presence particularly in the closing scenes of the film.
Although much of Day-Lewis's time is spent in those moments of the relationship, returning back to the most active Day-Lewis is the best Day-Lewis holds particularly true here. While Day-Lewis is definitely quite good in those scenes, his best are when Tomas is front and center. This is found in part of the film as we first see Tomas casually disregard the Soviets, which he initially delivers with only a minor intensity though as just someone in a conversation with friends. Tomas though writes a more scathing article against the Soviets, which is problematic when they invade leading Tomas and Tereza to leave the country though they eventually return. This leads Tomas to come afoul with the government who press him to name names of his collaborators or be no longer allowed to practice medicine in his hospital. These couple of scenes offer perhaps the Day-Lewis we all love most as he is downright amazing in the scenes just through his eyes portraying such sheer disregard for the government agent asking the questions. There is such a powerful incisiveness to Day-Lewis's work as in his very being you get such a incredible sense of Tomas's discontent, even though he never once raises his voice in the scene. Once again Day-Lewis is outstanding in this most urgent moment, expressing the most struggle so well in very few minutes, and in a part of the story that isn't given that much focus yet makes a substantial impact because of this performance. This isn't one of Day-Lewis's greatest turns, perhaps because how passive the character is, but that isn't saying much when talking about one of the most talented actors alive. This is still a very strong and remarkable turn from the great Daniel Day-Lewis.