Need a break from current events? This heartwarming cello movie is about life, death, and cello – and it’s free to watch on YouTube.*
Today’s cello movie is the Academy Award-winning 1996 Czech film, Kolja (or Kolya), based on a story by Pavel Taussig. Set 1988-89 in what was then Czechoslovakia, right before the Velvet Revolution, this film explores what is important in life – family, music, life, and death.
The main character, František Louka, is a womanizing, self-professed confirmed bachelor, and professional cellist. He has been forced out of the symphony due to his politics and family connections and is barely making a living by playing for funerals at the Prague crematorium.
At the opening of the film, Louka struggles to pay his bills and emotionally distances himself from others.
A Failed Marriage
To solve his financial problems, Louka marries a young Soviet woman for money. However, he soon finds himself alone and caring for her young son, Kolja, when she escapes to West Germany to be with another man.
The local authorities begin an investigation of Louka for his sham of a marriage. At the same time, as a previously childless bachelor, he struggles to learn how to take care of young Kolja, who only speaks Russian.
The film explores how the relationship between these two changes Louka’s life and world view in the middle of the political upheaval in Prague.
A Story that Stays with You
We won’t give away more of the plot, but we will say that of all of the films we watched for this review, this is the one that keeps coming to mind. Those used to American films might find the pacing slow; however, we found it visually poetic.
One of our favorite lines from the film is: “Music knows no boundaries.” This film is about boundaries between people, countries, a government and its citizens, men and women, and life and death. Music is the connection that binds everything together.
At first, it seems that Louka’s only connection with the world is through music, but as the film progresses, he forges meaningful relationships with different people in his life.
Louka has two cellos, one he uses in funerals, and the other he leaves in his apartment and uses for lessons. The teaching cello looks like a student instrument, but the one he plays regularly has a face carved into the front of its scroll that looks a bit like a green man one might find in a church or possibly a lion face in a similar style:
Although we were not able to identify the maker of this cello, the face on the front of the scroll hearkens back to 17th-century decorated scrolls by Paul Hiltz and Ernst Busch.
Likely a maker was familiar with the faces created by these makers and created his own version on this cello.
Unlike the instrument in The Living Daylights which is supposed to represent a Stradivarius cello – but in reality is more of a prop – this one looks like a playable instrument. If you know more about this cello, please get in touch and let us know.
A Father and a Son
One of the themes of this movie is the relationship between a father and a son, in this case, the relationship between Louka and his stepson Kolja.
In addition, this film is a real-life father-son collaboration: father Zdeněk Svěrák wrote the screenplay and plays Louka, the cellist, and son Jan Svěrák is the director.
Kolja is their second collaboration after a film called Elementary School about Zdeněk’s childhood. Jan and Zdeněk Svěrák have continued to work together with award-winning results.
Where to Find the Film
When we originally saw this film in the late 1990s, it was available in English as Kolya. Netflix DVD service in the USA has it under that title.
At the time of publication, it is available in the USA in digital form for free for Prime members on Amazon or to rent or purchase as Kolja. Check both titles to find DVDs, Blu-Rays, and even VHS copies.
If you can’t find it in your area under one title, be sure to check the other.*
We also found the full movie here on YouTube for free:
What are your favorite cello movies? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
- 2011-11-14T17:08:00+00:00. “International Film Festival Bratislava, Slovakia.” Screen, https://www.screendaily.com/international-film-festival-bratislava-slovakia/5034625.article. Accessed 22 June 2020.
- Facebook, et al. “Father and Son Team Up in ‘Kolya.’” Los Angeles Times, 24 Jan. 1997, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1997-01-24-ca-21537-story.html.
- (Amazon Prime Video)
- Nationalmuseum, Germanisches. Musical Instruments | GERMANISCHES NATIONALMUSEUM. https://www.gnm.de/en/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/musical-instruments/. Accessed 22 June 2020. Museum visited 26 September 2017.
- V4 Film: Kolya. https://www.mzv.cz/washington/en/culture_events/culture/past_cultural_events/v4_film_kolya.html. Accessed 22 June 2020.
- “Velvet Revolution.” Wikipedia, 5 June 2020. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Velvet_Revolution&oldid=960799723.
* Unfortunately, we cannot test viewing options from other regions, and YouTube videos come and go. Be sure to check DVD viewing formats in your area before purchasing.