Made in: The Czech Republic
Language: Czech
Director: Jan Sveràk
Starring: Zdenek Sveràk, Andrei Chalimon
Year: 1996

Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film (1997)

Synopsis: Who would have thought that getting out of debt could lead to such adventures? Jan Sveràk's Kolya takes place in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia near the end of the Cold War. The story is about Franta Louka (Zdenek Sveràk), a virtuoso cellist who once played with the prestigious Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

A middle-aged bachelor and perennial womanizer, he's fallen onto hard times (like many others around him) and earns a meager living by playing at funerals and retouching the lettering on headstones.

He's heavily in debt and running out of ways of keeping his financial situation a secret from his mother, until one day a friend proposes a money-making scam.

The scam calls for Louka to marry a Russian woman so she can attain Czech citizenship. In return, the woman would pay him a large sum of money. After six months, the marriage would legally dissolve and his life would go back to normal.

He is told that the would-be bride is fully aware of the arrangement, and accepts the terms.

Louka dislikes the plan for simple ethical reasons, and is even less enthusiastic about the idea of marriage. But in the end, he reluctantly agrees to the arrangement based on financial need.

But of course, all does not go according to plan.

His bride, soon after receiving her Czech documents, emigrates to West Germany to reunite with her lover, and leaves her young son Kolya (Andrei Chalimon) with his grand aunt. But because granny is too ill to take care of him, the boy, who speaks only Russian, is left with Louka.

The legal implications of the scam soon catch up to him, but the biggest challenge facing Louka comes in the many surprises brought about by sudden fatherhood.

The Good: This is a wonderfully touching and intelligent film. Director Jan Sveràk deftly weaves the relationship between Kolya and Louka into thought-provoking, sad, and humorous social/political commentaries on Czechoslovakia's occupation just prior to the historic 1989 "Velvet Revolution."

The message of the film is uplifting. It is about hope and the power of goodness within all of humanity despite the disillusionment, cynicism, and bitterness that tends to envelop our lives as we age.

The Bad: Not much negativity from me this time round, although I found the beginning a tad slow.

Who would like this movie: You'll like this movie best if you have an interest in foreign languages, a curiosity with other countries, and an appreciation for cross-cultural humor. But even if you just like quality entertainment with intelligence, you'll enjoy Kolya and many of its universal themes.

In many places you'll find the story very moving, and it presents a perspective of an historical event that, for me, proved more educational than any textbook I had back in high school.

Do you know much about Czech films? I'll be the first to admit that I don't. And if this one is any indication of how Czech films are made, I look forward to watching more of them.

(3 1/2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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