Taming the lion

April 04, 1997|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

The Oscar-winning "Kolya" has arrived in town, and it will delight many, of whom I am not one.

Still, the film is not without charms, even if it telegraphs every move in neon long before it happens.

It's about a somewhat grumpy, dyspeptic Czech cello player who finds his life turned upside-down by the arrival of a small child whose care he inherits reluctantly. What do you want to bet that this narrow misanthrope finds his heart warmed by the child's presence and opens up to feelings he hasn't had in years? Would you bet your house? Your car? Your life, senor? I thought not.

Zdenek Sverak stars as the cellist, Frantisek Louka; he also wrote the film, which was directed by his son Jan, so it's a family-intensive kind of effort. Actually, Sverak is much more interesting than the story in which he finds himself: With a striking resemblance to Sean Connery, he's a good lion in winter. Wary, disillusioned, he's been purged from the Czechoslovakian Philharmonic for his anti-Soviet ideology, a big no-no before the curtain fell-down-go-boom. Now he makes a living giving lessons, playing church services and free-lancing as a graveyard gold-leaf fixer-upper. He lives only for music, and sex, specializing in seducing his students.

Money is always a problem. That's why, when a friend comes to him with a scam in mind, he listens and ultimately agrees. It's the old "Green Card" thing: a convenience marriage to a Russian girl whose visa is running out. She doesn't want to be sent back to Russia. So, for a fee, he marries her and expects nothing to come of it except a small, tidy sum.

What comes of it is a child, when she uses her visa to flee to the West to be with her lover. No one is left to care for Kolya. Legally, Frantisek's obligated.

Continually in this film, the performances exceed the rather wan drama. If Sverak and Andrej Chalimon, who plays the boy, weren't so utterly convincing, the movie couldn't begin to delight. One cares about them far more than one cares about the story, as the old misanthrope thaws and begins to feel something he hasn't felt in years: feelings.


Starring Zdenek Sverak

Directed by Jan Sverak

Released by Miramax


Sun score: ** 1/2

Pub Date: 4/04/97


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