Sunday, December 16, 2007

Little Children and Kolja

Two movies about children, kind of. "Kolja," a Czech movie directed by Jan Sverak, depicts a child's power to transform the self-centered life of a concert cellist. It skirts the cliff-edge of sentimentality, but never falls over it, mainly because of the strong acting of Zdenek Sverak (Louka, the cellist, and the father of the director). The plot is also nicely complicated by the fact that Kolja is a Russian child in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia: no ponderous symbolism, but the human conflict of feelings towards a child of the oppressors.

"Little Children" is less conventional in its attitude towards children. The adults invest in their guardianship less admirable motives and feelings. Their lives exemplify Thoreau's words: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Todd Field directs the movie with empathetic insight into these desperate lives, and with a subtle eye to symbolism in characters and settings. Kate Winslet plays Sarah Pierce, the Madam Bovary figure who saves herself from falling into the abyss. Patrick Wilson plays the buff ex-jock who is not yet ready to leave the golden age of adolescence for married life as a stay-at-home dad. Jackie Earle Haley is utterly convincing as the paedophile persecuted by Noah Emmerich's ex-cop character, Larry Hedges.

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