Kolya (Jan Sverák, 1996)
Early in the film, crusty fifty-something year old musician Louka (screenwriter and the director's own father Zdenek Sverák) finds a lovely trinket in the gutter of her mother's house. Somehow, the exquisitely crafted costume piece fortuitously lands inside the rundown gutter. Louka goes to a jewelry appraiser and discovers that the trinket has limited monetary value. Nevertheless, he keeps the trinket and holds it for the important person he deems worthy of it.
It's a funny thing that there is a beautiful but mostly worthless trinket in Jan Sverák's highly conventional Kolya, a film the Academy deemed worthy for one of their gold-plated statues. If there's one thing to describe this sentimental feature, it is that, a finely manufactured bauble. Kolya, like that ornament brought by good fortune, is a beautiful thing but once appraised, is really nothing more than that, a shiny little thing that is easy on the eyes, light for the heart, and worthy of a well-earned smile. I have no doubts of the filmmakers' sincerity in crafting the film. In fact, the father-son team completed the script during a nine-month period which drew from them life-stirring or everyday experiences to be translated to film. Predictably, the product is adorable, exactly the kind of film I've trained myself to resist.
Louka, expelled from the Philharmonic Orchestra, plays for funerals and to earn more money, gets jobs restoring tombstones. Deep in debt and in need of a car, he accepts a lucrative offer by his friend to fake a marriage of a Russian woman, who after the wedding, immediately left for Germany leaving her son Kolya (Andrei Chalimon) under his dissenting wing. Louka is affiliated with those wanting to overthrow Russian political influence over the Czech, making the burden of taking care for the foreign child tougher to bear.
Louka isn't exactly the most endearing of old men. In fact, he is depicted as obnoxious, steadfast and sure of how he will live his life, mindful of the fact that to lead a musician's life, one cannot get married and maintain a family. It would take something drastic and effective to modify his stance about life and that's where Kolya comes in. Kolya is carefully written with an earnest admiration, probably keeping in mind the perfect son, unbearably lovable and made even riper for adoration by his vulnerability, being alone in a foreign land, unable to speak or understand the local dialect, and naively proud of his currently useless heritage. He is also played by a young actor perfectly plucked from the hundreds of photogenic children in Europe, physically capable of turning the hardest hearts into warm jelly. Kolya is the perfect kid to change Louka.
That's exactly my problem with this film, it is just too perfect. Everything fits wonderfully into their respective slots, that it is almost impossible to care for the film's characters in any other way that is not within the expectations of the plot. Louka is nothing more than an old guy desperately trying to make something out of his miserable existence of playing for funerals, calling ex-girlfriends during lonely nights, and frequent visits to his mother's house. Kolya, on the other hand, is a mere impetus and gives the audience no opportunity to actually care for him or know him above his role as a goodlooking pet or the cinematic wallflower.
No wonder the Academy loved this film, it's too easy. All you have to do is sit and pray that you're able to stay concerned after the string of maudlin affairs is served with extraordinary finesse. It has absolutely nothing for you to invest some part of yourself for, exactly like the cheap jewelry Louka fortuitously found while cleaning the gutter. It's entirely a one-sided affair, the art film you should seek out for if you vastly enjoyed the syrupy feel of films like Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful (1997) or Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso (1988). In my case, I like my films partly sour, bitter, or salty. Sugar can certainly get tiring after a while.