In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It might be a movie about Louka and Kolya, but it was the stuff about the last days of the USSR that interested me the most.”
The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“Music exceeds race and nationality.”
When you stick to primarily English language cinema, movies about the Soviet Union tend to be Cold War stories, purely about the Americans and Russians. But the Soviet Union covered masses of Europe. Millions of non Russians lived under communist rule for decades. People who were liberated by the Russians to end World War Two, while falling under their tyrannical, oppressive rule at the same time. I had no idea that this was the kind of story I was in for when I decided to watch Kolya. And in a lot of ways, it’s not that kind story at all. But at the same time, that’s the aspect that has stuck in my mind most as think about the movie now.
In the waning days of Soviet occupation in Czechoslovakia. Louka (Zdenek Sverak) is a struggling cellist in Prague, making ends meet by playing at funerals and restoring headstones in the cemetery. In financial debt to gravedigger Broz (Ondrej Vethxy), Louka is offered a way out when Broz approaches him about marrying a Russian girl so she can stay in Prague. Louka is opposed to all marriage, even fake marriage. But his debts get the better of him and the nuptials soon follow.
Using her residence in Prague to emigrate to West Germany, Louka’s new wife leaves her five year old son (Andrey Khalimn as the titular Kolya) behind, in the care of the child’s grandmother. When she has a stroke, Louka is Kolya’s only legal relative in Prague, and the boy ends up on the cellist’s doorstep. With his wife’s defection to the West bringing Louka to the attention of the Soviet authorities, taking Kolya in is as much about Louka keeping his own cover as a husband, as it is about the safety of the boy.
Opening with Louka making a series of well rehearsed booty calls to women on the phone, Kolya makes sure we know straight away that this 55 year old dude has most likely spent his entire life only worrying about himself. So it’s also clear that once Kolya arrives on the scene, this is going to be about a man realising that happiness comes via real, human connections, and caring for others. Not casual hook ups with women half his age, or adoring crowds when he performed with the Prague Philharmonic. And that is exactly the story we get, which I enjoyed. But it’s what happening on the edges that I really liked.
What’s happening on the edges is all the Soviet related stuff. The comments about emigration, that the Czechs see as freedom, while the authorities look down on it as desertion. The petty bureaucracy that leads to Louka losing his place in the philharmonic. And Louka’s mother’s hatred of the Russians, so ingrained that she can’t even bring herself to be nice to the adorable little Kolya. It might be a movie about Louka and Kolya, but it’s the stuff about the last days of the USSR that interested me the most.