father Zdenek Sverak with Andrej Chalimon as six-year-old Kolya.
Being a good father is more than a
matter of sharing the same bloodline. Fatherhood means responsibility
and commitment. And most of all, it is a testament to love. This
theme blossoms wonderfully with authentic warmth and humor in Czech
director Jan Sverak’s new film, Kolya, which recently received
an Oscar nomination for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film.
This deceptively simple film focuses on Frantisek
Louka, an unapologetic womanizer who only cherishes two things
in life: his bachelorhood and his heartfelt love of music. However,
this aging cellist gets more than he bargained for when a friend
convinces him to marry a young Russian woman trying to earn Czech
citizenship. When his young bride abruptly departs the country,
Louka finds himself the reluctant guardian of the woman’s young
Winner of the Grande Prix at the Ninth Tokyo International
Film Festival, Kolya is also a parable about change on multiple
levels, ranging from the personal to the larger political forces
at work in Prague on the eve of the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
The film was written by Jan’s father Zdenak Sverak,
who also plays the lead role of Louka in the film. The circumstances
of this father-and-son collaboration also have more than a few
parallels to the themes fleshed out in Kolya. Jan Sverak
says the film reflects on both his life and his father’s situation
as a young man.
"It mirrors my own life because I got married
very early," says 31-year-old Jan Sverak, during a recent
visit to San Diego. "I was 21 and I have two kids. And somehow,
I had to find the answer to the question of whether I had lost
my freedom too early. My wings were clipped.
"So to find the answer to what it means to have
a commitment. That is what I was looking to discover in this film."
The younger Sverak says his father wrote the script
over a nine-month period. Throughout the writing process, Zdenak
would fax the completed pages to his son. Occasionally, the famed
Czech screenwriter would solicit his son’s feedback by reading
new sections of the script over the phone. The gradual, organic
process of writing Kolya was not unlike nurturing a brainchild
evolving in the mind’s eye.
"So I had the script delivered very slowly during
the nine months," Sverak explains, "It is like you are
reading a book, but it takes you nine months to read it. So at
the end, I have to take it all together and read it again."
Kolya marks Sverak’s third collaboration with
his father on a film project. Sverak directed Zdenek in both the
1991 film Elementary School and 1994’s Accumulator I. Their
collaboration on Elementary School proved to be a fruitful
one, garnering the director his first Oscar nomination for Best
Foreign Language Film.
Sverak says working with his father has actually
strengthened their relationship. Their shared affinity for creating
character-driven films is built on a strong bond of trust. It doesn’t
hurt that his father is one of the best screenwriters currently
working in the Czech Republic, according to Sverak.
"So that’s some kind of safety that you know
the script will work," Sverak says. "The same way, I
hope he knows that my direction will work. So we trust each other.
He knows that he is not so good a director, as I know I can’t write
a script as he can.
"And, of course, the friendship between father
and son is very rare," he says. He did not always have such
a relationship with his father.
"We became friends when we started to collaborate
on our first film.
"Before, we were an ordinary father and son
who shared very few experiences. Now, we can talk about everything
because we are friends." MM