Directed by Jan Svěrák, Kolya is, I believe, the first film on the list to have won an Academy Award, in this case for Best Foreign Language Film. The film also won the Golden Globe in the same category.
Making Ends Meet
Louka (played by the director’s father) is a cellist and inveterate womanizer living in Prague in 1988. He never plans on marriage, claiming it isn’t compatible with the life of a musician. Instead, he calls up each of his lovers one by one, telling them: “I suddenly felt lonely, so guess who I thought of? You, of course!”
Louka’s clearly struggling financially; he has holes in his socks, asks his fellow musicians to lend him money, and moonlights as a headstone restorer. So when his friend Broz tells him of a moneymaking venture to the tune of 40,000 crowns, you’d think he’d snatch it up right away. However, the plan would involve entering into a sham marriage with a Russian family friend named Nadezhda, and Louka is “against marriage in any shape or form”—not to mention the fact that he is staunchly opposed to anything Russian (which, incidentally, makes him vulnerable to political persecution—more on that later).
Nadezhda doesn’t speak a word of Czech, and to make matters worse, she has a young son named Kolya. Tamara, Kolya’s grandmother, tells Louka and Broz: “Do you have any idea what bribes cost in Russia?” indicating that she had to find some poor Czech rube to marry Nadezhda. Besides, Nadezhda is primarily trying to get to West Germany to stay with her boyfriend, which requires becoming a Czech citizen. (Russians couldn’t enter West Germany, but Czechs could.) So, shortly after their fictive marriage, Nadezhda absconds, leaving Kolya behind with Tamara.
Naturally, Broz is terrified that the cops will be suspicious of Nadezhda leaving so soon. But Louka has more pressing concerns: when Tamara has a stroke, he has to look after Kolya, much to his displeasure. Like his mother, Kolya speaks nary a word of Czech, making communication difficult between him and Louka. Kolya is understandably frightened and upset to be away from his mother and grandmother, and no doubt confused as well. But Broz is thrilled: “Looking after your wife’s child makes your marriage look genuine,” he gleefully tells Louka.
Slowly, Louka settles into life as a surrogate parent. Unfortunately, Tamara dies, meaning Kolya is stuck with Louka for the foreseeable future. We watch Louka and Kolya grow closer—the latter even calls Louka “dad.” But much to Louka’s mother’s horror, Kolya is Russian. “First you show no interest in children and then it’s a Russian,” she sighs. Uncharacteristically, given his political leanings, Louka defends his decision to look after the child. But a woman from social services tells him that the Soviets will probably take Kolya back to the USSR and put him in a home, so Louka and Kolya leave their Prague flat to stay with a friend of Louka’s named Houdek.
The end of the film witnesses the beginnings of the Velvet Revolution. Perhaps unwisely, Louka brings Kolya to the protests, inciting a chain reaction that quietly unravels over the final minutes of the film. Thanks to his time with Kolya, Louka is changed (presumably) indelibly. Kolya is an immensely enjoyable film, as its many accolades can attest to. While watching the film, the thought struck me: “Finally, a comedy!” (albeit one that essentially ends with the word “goodbye”). In reality the film straddles the line between comedy and drama, dealing with heavy topics in a witty and often touchingly lighthearted manner.
Things are going to be a little different in the next post. Instead of writing about one film, I’ll be discussing three short films—very short, actually, each under fifteen minutes—that deal with similar topics and follow similar storylines.
Wea Nao Mi? (Solomon Islands, 2012)
Looking for Nelao (Namibia, 2015)
Icimonwa (Zambia, 2016)