During the first half of the 1990s, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences developed a penchant for awarding the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar
to such lite romps as Mediterraneo and Belle Époque while
slighting works with real integrity and depth, like Raise the Red
Lantern and Farewell My Concubine. In 1994, the Academy interrupted
this trend of false merit when it bestowed the distinction upon Nikita
Mikhalkov's stirring masterpiece Burnt by the Sun. This year, the Czech
Republic's Kolya was awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture, atoning
for past miscues.
Kolya is directed by Jan Sverak and stars his father, Zdenek, who also
wrote the script. The protagonists in Kolya transcend cultural barriers
to touch the lives of others as they themselves become enlightened. The subject
is a five-year-old Russian boy left in the care of a Czech musician on the eve
of 1989's Velvet Revolution, when Communism fell in the Soviet Union and the
Russians pulled out of Czechoslovakia. It's a predictable tale of parent-child
bonding that works because of its deep-felt performances and tight direction.
Zdenek Sverak brings a majestic grace to his surroundings as Frantisek Louka,
a down-on-his-luck middle-age bachelor in Prague. Once a revered cellist, he's
been ousted from the prestigious Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and now makes a
pittance playing funerals at the city's crematorium. Beyond music, Louka's only
pleasure comes from dalliances with other men's wives. That's why it's such a
piquant joy to watch him try to continue his freewheeling love life as he
confronts the complexities of parenthood.
Financial pressures force Louka into a bogus marriage with a Russian beauty (a
ravishing Irena Livanova), and through a series of fateful events, her son,
Kolya (Andrej Chalimon), is delivered into his custody. At first their pairing
is reluctant and strained by the political and linguistic incongruities between
Russian and Czech, but they grow into a genuine father-son relationship that
The on-screen chemistry between Sverak and Chamilon is what makes
Kolya. Sverak's performance fuels the film, but Chamilon gives it heart,
acting beyond his years and the cute smirks and silly remarks usually assigned
to most child actors -- like the Brillo-head in Jerry Maguire.
Kolya is a compelling portrait of humanity which renders its final
consequences in the wake of a momentous political transaction. Opens Friday
at the Avon and Jane Pickens theaters.
-- Alicia Potter