Kolya

on January 17, 1997 by Ed Scheid
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   This Czech film opens in 1988 Prague, shortly before the end of Soviet domination with the Velvet Revolution. Resentment against the Russians runs high. Louka (Zdenek Sverak, the director's father, who also scripts) is an older cellist who, fired from the local philharmonic, is reduced to playing for weddings and funerals. The self-centered Louka has as his main interest the seduction of a succession of female musicians. Desperate to make some money (he wants to buy a Trabant to make transporting his cumbersome instrument easier), he is paid to marry a young Russian woman (Libuse Safrankova) who wants Czech papers. Once they're in hand, however, she slips away from Prague to join her lover in Berlin, leaving behind her five-year-old Russian son Kolya (Andrej Chalimon). Neither speaks the other's language, but they gradually warm to each other.
   In the Czech Republic, "Kolya" has outgrossed "Forrest Gump," a sign of the film's wide appeal there; what keeps the simple story of "Kolya" from becoming overly sentimental, and could help the film travel, are the genuine emotions the two main performers give their characters. As directed by Jan Sverak (whose 1992 film "Elementary School" also was written by and starred his father and was an Oscar entry), Zdenek Sverak expertly conveys the musician's emotional change; at first concerned only with his own gratification, his Louka unexpectly, and to his own great surprise, begins to feel real affection for the boy. Young Chalimon has an amazingly expressive face, with which he expresses the boy's wide-eyed wonder as his new "father" shows him a new kind of life.
   Besides sentiment, "Kolya" also contains some lusty humor; Louka is not ashamed to lift the skirt of a singer during a church choir performance. Footage of Czech demonstrations against the Soviets is well-integrated into the film, emphasizing the tensions between the two nationalities--tensions the man and boy overcome. Starring Zdenek Sverak, Andrej Chalimon and Libuse Safrankova. Directed by Jan Sverak. Written by Zdenek Sverak. Produced by Eric Abraham and Jan Sverak. A Miramax release. Drama. Czech-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 111 min. Screened at the Telluride fest. Selected as the Czech Republic entry for best foreign-language film Oscar consideration.
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