This piece requires a bit of explanation. My parents belonged to a film club, and when I was in town I’d attend. The group would get together about once a month for dinner, and would discuss a pre-selected film. One month the film was to be Kolya, a critically praised film that I found rather sappy. By chance I was going to be overseas when the club met, so I perpetrated a hoax. I wrote the review below, to be read at the meeting, but claimed that it was an actual review by a certain notorious critic (the group was quite liberal, and the critic in question is extremely conservative) that had run in Los Angeles.



           Silas Marner was first filmed in 1921. The story of a gruff curmudgeon whose cold heart is thawed by an orphan has been remade, in various guises, by artists as different as John Wayne (3 Godfathers), Bob Hope (Sorrowful Jones), and, recently, Steve Martin (A Simple Twist of Fate). The newest version comes to us from Czechoslavakia. Kolya is its name, and it is the latest film by Czech wunderkind Jan Sverak.

            Frantisek Louka (the director’s father, Zdenek Sverak, who is also co-writer) is a cellist, who, for political reasons, plays only funerals. At the urging of his friend Broz, the gravedigger (Ondrej Vetchy), he agrees to an arranged marriage with a Russian translator. She gets Czech papers, he gets cash. Unfortunately, when she uses her Czech residence to defect to West Germany, Louka finds himself caring for her son Kolya (the amazing Andrej Chalimon).

            As backdrop for the drama of man and boy, we have the equally heartening saga of the Czechs’ struggle to throw off the yoke of Russian tyranny. The year is 1988, and while we know that Ronald Reagan’s grand strategy was finally bringing an end to the cold war, the weary Czech’s still must deal with the ominous presence of Russians on Czech soil (“115,000 troops,” we are told), and the well realized possibility that any Czech might be brought in for police interrogation at any time. Louka, himself, has been fired from the Philharmonic for one ill-chosen remark made to his political officer. On occasion, the Sverek’s cannot resist displaying their liberal sympathies: Louka tells his mother “not all Russians are bad;” Louka delivers a gratuitous lecture on environmentalism, and the little boy’s blasphemy is used as a punchline. Still, on the surface this film is as warming as a bowl of mom’s chicken soup.

            What boils beneath the surface of that soup is more disturbing: beneath the broth is a witch’s brew of disturbed sexuality. Pederasty and incest, with more than a dollop of necrophilia, are served up with a relentless series of phallic images. Instead of the boy reforming the man, we have a thinly disguised account of a 55-year-old man sexually seducing a five year old boy. Framed by a series of bedroom scenes, we see the boy’s slow corruption. At first, he is fearful. Not daring to look at Louka, he stares at the ceiling. By the time his seduction is complete, he slides eagerly over without prompting, to embrace and kiss the bearded cellist.

            The movie uses its symbols as a kind of code to explicate its real theme. Veiled homosexuality has been a favorite of liberal film makers for years, and the use of symbols at times seems almost a badge of honor among them. Think of George Steven’s Shane, with Alan Ladd and Van Heflin pounding the stump, or Jack Palance pulling on the leather gloves. Clearly, Clint Eastwood, a staunch conservative, must have been disturbed by the subtext when he remade Shane (1985’s Pale Rider), but his substitution of a 14 year old girl (Sydney Penny) for the original’s 11 year old Brandon DeWilde served only to underscore, rather than camouflage, the most disturbing aspects of that story. Perhaps the champ of in-the-closet movies was E.T. the Extraterrestial. It is no coincidence that the working title was A Boy’s Life, or that one of that film’s most famous scenes was a twisted creature molesting 5 year old Drew Barrymore in an actual closet! In the same film, the creature, using alcohol and its (the creature’s) persuasive powers, makes Henry Thomas and a (considerably) pre-PLAYBOY Erika Eleniak act out an adult sex scene before their pre-pubescent classmates.

            Most of the symbolism in Kolya is heavy-handed phallicism. Louka is a cellist, so cellos sprout between the legs of most of the characters, to be stroked and caressed in ways more blatant than symbolic. As Kolya is a five year old, Louka gifts him with a smaller violin. Candles and crosses make their inevitable appearance, and Louka lives “in a tower.” The necrophilic touches, combining religious icons, blasphemously, with sexual fetishism, are equally obvious. Kolya draws a juxtaposed cello and coffin. Kolya recreates a funeral, with black lace panties stuffed into the coffin. (It is worth noting that all of Louka’s women betray their men. Two of his affairs are with married women, and his own “wife” - Kolya’s mother -runs off to Germany, abandoning both of them.)

            Some is much more subtle. Louka is “in the closet” with his mother. He cannot tell her the truth about his life. His greatest fear, throughout the movie, the great fear of all child molesters, is that he will be caught by the authorities, and separated from his little love. Near the end of the film, the entire country comes out of the closet. They have expelled the Russians. In the celebrating throng are the two detectives who earlier pursued him. Now, appearing as a gay couple, they turn and wink at him in solidarity.

            Subtler still are the bird symbols. First the pigeons, then the story, “The Eagle and the Lamb,” and finally the circling hawk flying over Louka’s car. The birds symbolize freedom, but, the hawk is also code for “chicken hawk” - a seducer of young boys. Most obscure is Louka’s sweatshirt. It reads: “H. D. Lee   Kansas Est. 1889.” References to Judy Garland have long been part of the gay underground. “A friend of Dorothy’s” is a synonym for gayness. Here, Kansas refers to the line from the Wizard of Oz: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

            Unfortunately, most children are molested by relatives. That Zdenek Sverek and Jan Sverek are father and son is a somber thought. By film’s end, Kolya is calling Louka “dad.” Though he is reunited with his mother, his conversion and corruption is thrown up in her face. Louka enters carrying Kolya on his shoulders. Symbolically and physically he is thrust up between Kolya’s legs. He sets Kolya down, but Kolya turns his back on his mother, and buries his head in Louka’s crotch. At last he turns and goes reluctantly to her, but the pain in Nadezda’s (Irina Livanova) face bespeaks her anguished realization of what her son has become. Though Louka has seemingly lost Kolya, in the film’s chilling finale, we see the soloist Klara (Libuse Safrankova) watching from a crowd as Louka performs. She is very pregnant with Louka’s child. With our dawning awareness that she is a human pod, growing Louka’s next victim, Kolya fades out.