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Father (Zdenek) and son (Jan) Sverak’s latest film together is a moving and often funny story of a small group of people, told with great cinematic flair: Andrew L. Urban pieces together some of the background.

The script that Zdenek Sverak wrote keeps him on screen almost non-stop, in the central role of Louka, the determined bachelor cellist in his 50s. "I described myself in fair detail on the first page. This determined Louka as someone of my age and appearance. The thought of how I should cope with the part had not crossed my mind." Louka is a kind man with a dry sense of humour and a weakness for pretty women.

"The boy was a calculated risk from the beginning of the project," director Jan Sverak.

Zdenek Sverak’s performance was greatly enhanced by his little co-star, the six year old Russian boy Andrej Chalimon, plucked from a suburban Moscow kindergarten, discovered after many frustrating auditions.

"But the fourth shooting day brought a miracle." director Jan Sverak

"The boy was a calculated risk from the beginning of the project," comments director Jan Sverak. "We knew that he had to be lively, photogenic and able to act even when he might not feel like it. During the audition we were quite happy about our choice, but the first days of shooting with Andrej looked a total failure. He kept looking into the camera and laughing. At that time I was really kicking myself. I felt it was my fault that after a search of nine months we had made a bad choice. But the fourth shooting day brought a miracle. That night, while viewing the rushes, we saw an angel who lived his own life in front of the camera. Andrej acted as if there was no screenplay in existence, as if what we witnessed on the screen was real life."

"While viewing the rushes, we saw an angel who lived his own life in front of the camera." director Jan Sverak

Zdenek Sverek also has high praise for Andrej, and has become the little boy’s favourite "dyadya" both on the screen and in real life. "The boy was improving from day to day. It was enough to tell him where he was and what has happening and he could feel the appropriate emotion, just as I would. It was no longer necessary to pretend to step on his favourite little car when we wanted him to cry. He understood that we did not want him to pretend being sad, but that we wanted him to BE sad."

On the shoot, Andrej was guided by the assistant director Nikola Hejko, a film-maker from the Ukraine, with a vast experience of working with children. Andrej’s mother Jelena Chalimonova, a dancer and choreographer by training but currently a secretary, stayed with her son during the whole shoot. Jan Sverak’s four year old son, Frantisek, entertained Andrej during the breaks. He also acted as Andrej’s double, whenever there was a shot requiring a little hand or head.

"Kolya is a period film with a touch of fairy tale," actor/writer Zdenek Sverak.

Elementary School and Accumulator 1 were Jan and Zdenek Sverak’s previous films. meet again as co-authors. Their latest film takes place in the recent past, during a period which culminates, both in reality and in the film, during the famous days of the Velvet Revolution, November 1989. "Kolya is a period film with a touch of fairy tale," according to Zdenek Sverak.

"I quite forgot that I couldn’t really play the instrument. I was then a regular member of the orchestra and heard the music we played, in spite of my muted bow. From that moment it was all real." actor/writer Zdenek Sverak

"I supposed that my screenplays allow me to experience what I sometimes imagine and what could hardly happen to me in real life," he adds. "I love Dvorak’s music and I regret that I have never mastered any instrument. When I started to learn the cello for the part of Louka I noticed that the sounds which I produced were not too bad at all. When, during photography, I was playing the cello with the symphony orchestra in the Old Town Square - using the muted bow, of course - I quite forgot that I couldn’t really play the instrument. I was then a regular member of the orchestra and heard the music we played, in spite of my muted bow. From that moment it was all real.

"I think that we need films about feeling and compassion," says Zdenek Sverak. "I liked the idea of a man who is under all sorts of pressures and yet he listens to his heart. I should say that we need films on this subject more than any other."

Director of Photography Vladimir Smutny was central to the detailed visualisation of the script and was enthusiastic about Jan Sverak’s elegant visual concepts, i.e. the path of a spinning kettle spout, the bubbles in a pint of beer and the play of light on the freshly painted inscriptions of grave stones.

Shooting on Kolya started in Prague on 21st August 1995, the twenty-seventh anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army. Filming took place in and around Prague for 56 days. Locations include Strasnice Crematorium, Thomayer’s hospital and the Vysicany quarter with some additional scenes at Mala Strana. Some parts of the town were recreated by Production Designer Milos Kohout at Hostivar Studios, including a scaled down version of St Nicholas Cathedral. The country exteriors were filmed at Ustek, Frantiskovy Lazne, and the River Vydra.

The relationship between the cynical philanderer and the engaging little Russian boy develops to the music of Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana; additional music was composed by Ondrej Soukup. Dvorak’s music to the psalm "The Lord is My Shepherd" is the theme tune of the film.

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CAST: Zdenek Sverak, Andrej Chalimon, Libuse Safrankova, Ondrez Vetchy, Stella Zazvorkova, Irena Livanova, Lilian Mankina

DIRECTOR: Jan Sverak

SCRIPT: Zdenek Sverak, based on a story by Pavel Taussig

PRODUCERS: Eric Abraham, Jan Sverak


EDITOR: Alois Fisarek


MUSIC: Ondrej Soukup

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes




(Czech and Russian with English subtitles)



Best Foreign Language Film, 1997 Golden Globe Awards;

Best Film & Best Screenplay, 1996 Tokyo Film Festival

Special Mention, 1996 Venice Film Festival

Official Czech Entry, Foreign Language 1997 Academy Awards


Middle aged cellist Louka has his life and his cynicism up-ended when a friendly grave-digger (Ondrez Vetchy) proposes that he marry his distant Russian niece (Irena Livanova) who needs Czech papers. No obligations. Just a signature in exchange for enough money to buy a small car and pay the rent. His bride quickly emigrates to Germany to join her lover, leaving behind her six year-old Russian son, Kolya (Andrej Chalimon), in Louka's at first reluctant care. He soon changes his tune.

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