Kolya

Movie review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Kolya Movie Poster Image
Adorable kid transforms womanizer in poignant Oscar winner.
  • PG-13
  • 1997
  • 105 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

See beyond prejudice and be responsible enough to care for the most vulnerable.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Louka is shown as a cad off the bat: a womanizing confirmed bachelor. His transformation into a capable and loving caregiver is pretty profound, though he still entertains ladies in his loft by putting his young charge in the bath and shutting the door. He also never gives Kolya a straight answer about what happened to his grandmother.

Violence

Kolya's grandmother dies from a stroke -- Louka finds out by visiting the hospital but only tells Kolya she's "sleeping"; the boy is very distressed. Kolya also gets very sick and lost on the train for most of a day. Russian tanks are a constant feature in front of Louka's mother's house. Louka is interrogated and threatened with imprisonment. Kolya goes to so many funerals where Louka plays his cello that he's always drawing coffins or building them for a puppet theater.

Sex

Nonsexual full-frontal nudity as 5-year-old Kolya gets in and out of the bath multiple times. Louka entertains women frequently in his loft, once after dumping Kolya in the bathtub and shutting the door. You only see trysts afterward with couples under rumpled sheets, discarded underwear, and exposed legs. Some lewd behavior in the back of a church, grabbing a suitor's butt and using a cello bow to lift up her skirt. Plus more innuendo on the phone and cat-calling girls while driving down the street. Louka makes piggish drunken comments to arranged-marriage wife about how he'd like to give her a real wedding night -- lucky for her she doesn't speak Czech.

Language

A sprinkling in subtitles including "s--t," "damn," "screw this," "go screw your mother," "hell," "ass," and a 5-year-old says "Jesus Christ."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Set in Europe in the late '80s, so smoking and drinking are both quite prevalent. There's drinking and smoking at dinner and after sex. One of the interrogators is such a heavy smoker the butts topple over in his ashtray. A bottle of alcohol is visible on the floor of the church during a funeral service. Louka says some piggish things while very drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kolya is an Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, and while it has some very kid-friendly themes involving an adorable 5-year-old, the movie involves mature subjects, as well. The central adult character is quite a womanizer and while sex is never shown, there are lots of rumpled sheets and bare legs in the picture. There's also lots of drinking and smoking (it's Europe in the late '80s) and a smattering of swearing (including "s--t") in the subtitles. The subtitles go by pretty fast, too. Fast reading skills and a little background on what was happening politically in Czechoslovakia in 1988 will help younger foreign language fans fully appreciate this lovely film.

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What's the story?

Louka (Zdenek Sverak) is a confirmed bachelor in 1988 Prague who plays his cello at funerals and restores tombstones for a living after falling out of favor with the philharmonic orchestra. He's barely making ends meet and knows he can get to more gigs with a used car. And his mother's house needs new gutters. So he accepts his friend's proposition of a lucrative arranged marriage with a Russian interpreter who's trying to keep herself and her 5-year-old son Kolya (Andrei Chalimon) in the country. Or so she says. After the faux wedding she takes off to West Germany and leaves Kolya with his grandmother. From West Germany she hopes to get the right paperwork to bring Kolya along but it will take time. While she's gone grandma has a stroke and Kolya ends up where else but on Louka's doorstep. What's a bachelor to do?

Is it any good?

This is an enjoyable, touching film. The "confirmed bachelor transformed by child" theme has been done so many times; think cheesy '80s hits like Baby Boom and Three Men and a Baby and poignant heart-wrenchers like The Professional. As you might expect from an Oscar winner, KOLYA is closer to The Professional in poignancy -- minus the drug stash and shoot-outs.

The beautiful Prague backdrop just before the fall of communism adds the extra intrigue. So does Louka's complex womanizing character. There's no liking him while he's drunk and piggish toward his faux Russian wife or dumping Kolya in the bath so he can have a tryst, but there's something endearing about his holey socks and the way he listens to his mother. He's a man ripe for a transformative experience and viewers are sure to be moved by it, even if they know what's coming from a mile away.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Czechoslovakia in 1988 when Kolya is set. What did you know about the country's history before seeing the movie? What else can you find out and where?

  • What do you think of Louka? Is he a good caregiver? How does he change during the film? How does he stay the same?

  • What other movies can you think of with confirmed bachelors finding their soft sides? What's unique about this take on the story? What's the same?

Movie details

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