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Kolya is a story of the Shepherd who looks after his sheep, who tirelessly seeks them out when they are lost or have strayed, and leads them through dark and lonely places to bring them to dwell in his presence.
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By Rachel Hostetter Smith, Ph. D.
Gilikison Famiy Chair in Art History
Taylor University

From David Bruce: I met Dr. Smith at the 1998 City of Angels Film Festival in Hollywood. She presented a paper on this film and on Kieslowski's Three Colours Trilogy. I was very impressed with her work. With her permission, I present it here for you to enjoy. Be sure to check out Kieslowski's Blue for the remainder Dr. Smith's thoughts.

The perfect grouch has met his match.
A five-year-old boy named Kolya.
Louka: Zdenek Sverak, Kolya: Andrej Chalimon, Klara: Libuse Safrankova, Mr. Broz: Ondrez Vetchy, Mother: Stella Zazvorkova, Mr. Houdek: Ladislav Smoljak, Nadezda: Irena Livanova, Aunt Tamara: Lilian Mankina.

Directed by Jan Sverak.
Produced by Eric Abraham and Sverak.
Written by Zdenek Sverak.
Photographed by Vladimir Smutny.
Edited by Alois Fisarek. Music by Ondrej Soukup.
Running time: 105 minutes.
Classified PG-13 (some sensuality, brief nudity).
Roger Ebert says: Missing a film like "Kolya,'' winner of a 1997 Golden Globe, would not be a price I would be willing to pay.
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Kolya presents yet another tale about the redemptive nature of human relationship, set in the beautiful but beleaguered city of Prague, just before the Velvet Revolution. This story revolves around the character of Louka, a virtuoso cellist reduced to playing for funerals in a mortuary ensemble as a result of his refusal some years earlier to cooperate with the state secret police.
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This macabre occupation combined with Louka's roguish woman-chasing present a man who is cast adrift without meaningful ties to friends or family. Having lost his ability to pursue his passion for music in a significant and meaningful way--he is a man past 50 who seems to have the character of an adolescent--no wife, no children, few friends, and no future prospects, personal or professional, an undeniably likeable character whiling away his days in lascivious pursuit of liaisons with women. Louka makes his home in a dingy and dog-eared attic apartment, closed and not a little claustrophobic. It is a place where everything seems destined to become yellowed and worn from age and neglect, a visible manifestation of the condition of his own being. It is clear that Louka knows his life is wanting in the most fundamental ways but lacks the will to change.
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Enter fate in the form of an illegal arranged marriage for pay to a Russian woman who flees Prague for the West immediately following the ceremony, leaving him with the care of her little boy, Kolya, the title character of the film, and plenty of questions from the authorities to answer regarding the disappearance of his wife.
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To give the marriage the appearance of legitimacy and thereby preserve his own skin, Louka begrudgingly agrees to care for Kolya, taking him into his shabby attic apartment, acting the stepfather, believing it to be only temporary until the mother can be found and he can return to his disencumbered way of life.
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His determination to maintain his carefree pattern of living slowly begins to break down in the face of the realities of caring for a child, abandoned and alone, reaching a turning point when Louka must cope with a feverish and scared little boy, struck dangerously ill with the frightening swiftness one encounters so commonly with children. In this experience he becomes a father, attentive to the mundane needs of his son--shoes that have been outgrown, toys and play, comfort and reassurance.
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The fulfillment he once sought in fleeting sexual dalliartbs has been found in caring for another human being, a child, who returns his love with an innocent and protective loyalty. The depth of love that has grown between them is clear in the sublime happiness they find in being together and the heart-piercing sorrow they experience at the prospect of separation.

The theme of Kolya is revealed with the boy's arrival in and eventual departure from Prague with the return of his mother. At each point we see the small boy gazing out the window of an airborne plane into a seemingly endless universe of clouds, tracing his finger over the window pane to a voice reciting, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...." Kolya is a story of the Shepherd who looks after his sheep, who tirelessly seeks them out when they are lost or have strayed, and leads them through dark and lonely places to bring them to dwell in his presence. Moreover, it is a story that answers the question as does Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy, "Am I my brother's, or my neighbor's, pr a strange child's keeper?" with a swift arid unrefutable yes .

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But perhaps, most notably, Kolya begs the question of who was rescued by whom--the child or the man, as it reveals bow the love and need of a small brought a grown man back to life by causing him to give up himself for the good of another human being. It is the paradox of the Gospel message, that in denying ourselves we truly gain ourselves. It is significant that the story ends, not with a reunion between Louka and Kolya but with Kolya flying off to a new, as yet unknown future with his mother, and Louka, some months later, now happily encumbered with wife, heavy with child. A new life, new responsibilities which demand that Louka reach outside of himself with love and commitment. Thus fettered in human relationship he is free at last. Was it a trick of fate or the hand of providence that brought Kolya into this man's life?

These films (Blue and Kolya) made by filmmakers (Kieslowski and Sverak) who grew to maturity under the bleakness of communist rule in Poland and Czechoslovakia are a testament to the uncanny ability of God’s Word to reach beyond historical, cultural, and even political boundaries to speak to the most fundamental issues of human life even in the midst of unspeakable hardship and suffering. In the words of the Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, "The important thing in this life is to link your sadness to the sadness of others. That is the significance of [the] cross." Moreover, these works show that it is only through that meaningful relationship with our fellow human beings, who are created in the image of a living God, that our sadness can be transformed into joy.

Psalm 23
A Psalm of David from the King James Bible.
This is the Psalm used to structure this film.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Related review
Kolya © 1996 Miramax Films. All Rights Reserved.


Subject: Same Czech wit, different era
Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2000
From: steve

This movie represents the wit that helped the Czech people survive oppressive years under a communist regime and shows that they are still alive and well. Some aspects of capitalization hasn't been too kind to Czechs, yet they still remember vividly the absurdity of what they had to endure before. Great film.