Kolja (Kolya)

Jan Svĕrák's sentimental tale won a 1996 Oscar, but Andy Markowitz is less impressed than the Academy

Directed by Jan Svĕrák

Written by Zdenĕk Svĕrák

Starring Zdenĕk Svĕrák, Andrej Chalimon

Of post-'89 crop of Czech filmmakers, none so readily embraced the Hollywood model as director Jan Svĕrák and his writer/actor father, Zdenĕk Svĕrák (actually a major pre-'89 stage and screen star), and they were duly Oscar-ed for their trouble. A 1996 winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Kolja is capably executed, fitfully charming and as slickly sentimental as any heavy-footed Spielberg wallow.

The elder Svĕrák is Franta Louka, a middle-aged rogue of a cellist in glasnost-era Prague. Expelled from the musicians' union over some prankish anti-authoritarian gesture, he ekes out a freelance living playing funerals and spends the rest of his time happily philandering. Short of cash, he accepts a wad to marry a young Russian woman seeking Czechoslovak papers; she promptly absconds to the West, leaving Franta saddled with her style-cramping five-year-old (Chalimon).

Man meets boy, tries to lose boy, comes to love boy, and gets himself all growed up in the bargain. Svĕrák's understated performance, the odd patch of dry humor and a blessedly muted string score keep thoroughgoing mawkishness (mostly) at bay, and resistance is futile against Chalimon's crushing adorability. But it's all dispiritingly familiar, never less than nakedly manipulative, and the last-reel yoking of daddy-dearest bonding to Velvet Revolution iconography feels tacked on and not a little cynical.

Year: 1996

Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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