Confess: you think of the movies, when you think of them at all, as little more than a keen way to kill a couple of hours — a Saturday night on the town, a Wednesday evening on the living room couch. If pressed, you might be willing to concede that the best of them constitute a bona fide art form. But has it ever occurred to you that motion pictures are single-handedly responsible for the perpetuation of the human race over the past century? Well?
Okay, so maybe I’m embellishing a tad. But it sure does seem that way sometimes, given the fervor with which many movies attempt to indoctrinate us into becoming parents. Heck, even worldwide box office champion Jurassic Park includes a subplot (not in Michael Crichton’s novel) in which the paleontologist hero played by Sam Neill gradually overcomes his distaste for the bratty tykes entrusted to his care. ”You may think you don’t want kids,” these films suggest, ”but look what happens the moment an adorable moppet stumbles into your life.” Enter moppet, beaming; exeunt prospective moms and dads, two hours later, sniffling.
Kolya is the tender Czech movie that won the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar back in March. Its plot amounts to One Man and a Toddler: Middle-aged bachelor Louka (Zdenek Sverak, father of the film’s director, Jan Sverak), a charming but somewhat lonely lothario who was kicked out of the Philharmonic and is now reduced to playing his cello at funerals, agrees, in return for cash, to marry a Soviet woman (Irena Livanova) who wants Czech citizenship papers. The woman unexpectedly flees to West Germany, however, leaving Louka in charge of her preternaturally adorable 6-year-old son, Kolya (Andrej Chalimon). Do they gradually form an affectionate bond? Does a bear head-butt the Pope in the woods?
The video box trumpets the film’s Oscar in enormous type, but that award is something of a red flag; in recent years, the Academy has tended to favor feel-good fluff (Mediterraneo, Belle Epoque). And, sure enough, Kolya never achieves anything more potent than a somber inoffensiveness. (It’s questionable whether it’s even a comedy, though Miramax is aggressively promoting it as one.) The actors are first-rate, and the film’s 1988 setting, on the eve of Czechoslovakia’s liberation, lends it a certain subtextual poignancy, but not much actually happens in Kolya. Indeed, it’s so understated that you may find yourself leaning farther and farther forward, wondering if you might perhaps perceive a bit more drama by getting closer to the TV set. But if you’re partial to stories about adults who gradually warm up to cute kids, feel free to take my grumpy dismissal with a heaping handful of salt.
In one of Kolya‘s final shots, Louka’s sometime girlfriend’s swelling belly tells us that he will be a father again soon enough. At the end of Fathers’ Day, Billy Crystal and wife Julia Louis-Dreyfus are heading for the bedroom to start working on their own little zygote. The message is clear, but the examples are poor: If filmmakers think of their movies as surrogate children, these two need more discipline. C