Cinema Club: Kolya (1996)

Posted on July 22, 2013

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Kolya (1996, Jan Sverak)

And once again I am reminded that Eastern European cinema is, and most likely always will be, my favourite. ‘Kolya’ is a drama of sorts, following the life of 55 year old Frantisek Louka, a fantastic cello player from Prague. He never married, and indeed is something of a bachelor. After getting kicked out of the Philharmonic and coming into tough financial times, he decides to go ahead with a bogus marriage to a Russian girl for financial gain. She ends up running off to West Germany, and Louka is left with her five year old son, Kolya. They have immediate problems because of language and cultural differences, not to mention a five year old boy in a strange country being left with a 55 year old bachelor. They eventually form a bond, an incredibly tight bond. Just when everything seems to have come up Milhouse for them, the threat of Kolya being moved to a social home in the USSR emerges. All of this is nullified when the Velvet Revolution happens, and Kolya is reunited with his mum. All good, all lovely, yay, happy happy happy. Let’s get into it.

There is a five or ten minute stretch towards the end of this film that really kicked home how much I adore cinema of this type. Louka and Kolya were riding the metro, when Louka bumps into an old musician chum. In the process of catching up, he manages to get off the train without the boy. Foolish man! What follows is one of the best cinematic representations of the isolation and fear that busy spaces can inspire in a child, as well as the panic of losing something. It only last a minute or two, but I was enamored with the whole thing. Add to that the poetry of Kolya instinctively going to Moskevska station, and I was on board. This was quickly followed by Kolya having an imaginary conversation with his Grandmother in the bath, full of tears, and I wasn’t far off myself. The whole thing was just beautifully done.

Included in that five minute stretch were a whole host of things that I love about this sort of stuff. The quickest thing that came to attention, and was magnified during the last half hour of the film, was just how good the performance of the child is. Much like the performance in the first Dekalog film, the chemistry between man and boy is an absolute joy to watch, seeming completely natural throughout. The evolution from indifference to acceptance to pure love is seamless, and completely engrossing. The performance of Louka, played by Zdenek Sverak (yes, father of the director and writer of the script) is fantastic. I would be amiss to mention as well that he is devilishly handsome throughout, and good lord I hope I can maintain myself into my 50’s as such.

The pace of ‘Kolya’ is perfect as well. It clocks in at 105 or so minutes, and it manages to maintain itself throughout, never dragging or feeling rushed. There are many scenes of not much happening, but as with the best films from behind the former Iron Curtain it all seems necessary for the story being told. Whether it is the frequent performance interludes or the graveyard conversations, it all makes sense, nothing outstays its welcome. Again, the comparison that came into my head was with the films of Kieslowski, in particular the Dekalog. Everything in its right place, including all of the dialogue. Once more, the interaction between Louka and Kolya in this respect is genuinely heartwarming, in particular the language struggles.

And that is how I would sum this film up. It is heartwarming in the most genuine way, in the most literal sense. Now, I just feel really nice. I don’t mean that in the outdated numbness that such an adjective seems to carry these days, but more in the literal sense. Everything feels good again.

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