the fresh films reviews

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Kolja (1996)

Jan Svěrák

Czech Republic


105 minutes

Eric Abraham
Jan Sverák
Zdenek Svěrák
Pavel Taussig

Cast includes:

Frantisek Louka Zdeněk Svěrák ˝
Kolja Andrej Chalimon ˝
Klara Libuse Safránková -
Broz Ondrej Vetchý -
Moren Stella Zázvorková -
Houdek Ladislav Smoljak -
Nadezda Irina Livanova -
Blanka Sylvia Sudarova -
Tamara Lilian Malkina -



This uplifting Czech drama was the deserved winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for 1996 (beating among others Berit Nesheim's Sřndagsengler). The film tells the story of Frantizek Louka (Zdenek Svrák), a seasoned bachelor and classical cellist who in 1988's Prague agrees to a sham marriage with a Soviet woman in order to make some money, and suddenly finds himself stuck with the woman's 5-year-old son, Kolja. As directed by 31-year-old wunderkind filmmaker Jan Svěrák (Obecná skola) and written by his father and star Zdeněk Svěrák, the film is a simple, conventionally told story – but boy, how beautiful conventionality. The story is so down-to-earth and lovable, and the images so atmospheric, that we're more than willing to accept the Svěráks' maudlin plea. The unlikely companionship between the ageing womanizer who hates all things Soviet and little Kolja, who is Russian without even knowing it, is art-based hatchet-burying in practice. And if you for a moment or two feel that you're being lured into your emotional responses, you're quickly jerked back to a sense of justified bliss by little Andrej Chalimon, whose performance is so pure (and arguably unwitting) that it just cannot be faulted. Jan Svěrák's confident, clever direction catches Chalimon in all sorts of authentic situations, and the sensitive Zdeněk accompanies and supports him wonderfully. The film has a delightful mix of sentimental segments, distinctive Czech peculiarities and the occasional slapstick scene – all back-dropped by sensible, underplayed political criticism, as the Svěráks communicate proudly that they are patriots, but not nationalists. Despite their sadness for the historical difficulties that has been, they are first and foremost happy and optimistic for the future – which is perfectly illustrated through their little Russian charmer.

Copyright © 08.02.1998 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
(English version: © 08.04.2021 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang)