KOLJA – A Czech Movie by Jan Sverák

Kolja (pronounced Kolya) is a Czech movie directed by Jan Sverák. The movie centers around a middle aged man, František Louka and his relationship with a young Russian boy, Kolya. Set in the backdrop of 1988, it reveals the turbulent times in Czechoslovakia which was on the brink of ending the communist era. It brings to the fore the undercurrents prevailing at the times of ‘Normalization’ which succeeded the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Louka , who is a confirmed bachelor and a philanderer , earns his living as a concert cellist in a crematorium.Abhorring any kind of commitments, he carries on with life till he falls into monetary hardships. At this juncture, at the suggestion of a friend, he agrees to marry a young Russian woman who is looking to emigrate to Czechoslovakia, in return for money. Louka returns to living at his flat after the marriage, using the money to buy a car and to tide over other requirements.He soon comes to know, that his wife has used her citizenship to emigrate to West Germany to be with her boyfriend. With the harsh controls in place by the rigid communist regime, he realizes the threat of a reprisal for his actions.

The woman, has a 5 year old son, Kolya who she leaves with her aged mother and in a stroke of fate, when she is suddenly taken ill, the hospital is forced to leave Kolya with Louka, his legal guardian. This then flags off an interesting relationship between Louka and Kolya which progresses from downright rejection to a special bonding. Finally one day, after a visit by a member of the child welfare services, Louka realizes that since Kolya was Russian, there was no way he could keep running away from the Russian authorities. They flee to a friends place which also coincidentally happens around the time of mass demonstrations and when the communist stranglehold is finally loosening.Louka with Kolya sitting on his shoulders rejoice the withdrawal of the communist troops from Czechoslovakia in a public gathering.The meeting finally happens with Kolya’s mother and Kolya returns to his mother.

Image Courtsey: Radio Prague
Image Courtsey: Radio Prague

There are interesting interludes where the Czech and the Russian persona of both of them come to the fore.The director has masterfully used camera angles with a fantastic effect of light and shade.I personally liked the simplicity of the theme and the simple shots which conveyed a whole lot of meaning.

There was one shot which showed Russian troops knocking on the door asking for water, when both Louka and his mother tell them that there was no water and that all the pipes were jammed and little Kolya innocently letting them know that was not the case. And one where little Kolya was finding it difficult to fall asleep, Louka requests one of his woman friends from his philandering days to tell him a story in Russian over the phone.

The theme is not new but what sets it apart is the mature handling of the theme by the director and his interesting interplays of the political situation prevalent at the time. There is no untoward emotionalism, everything is present but controlled and realistic.

Definitely a feel good movie and a good watch.