American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In Prague in 1988 Russian trucks rumble through the streets and Czechs make an accommodation with their masters, or pay a price. Louka pays a price. Because in a moment of unwise wit he wrote a flippant answer on an official form, he has been bounced out of the Philharmonic and now scrapes by playing his cello at funerals, and repairing tombstones.
Life has consolations. A parade of young women visits his “tower,” an apartment at the top of a rickety old building. At 55, Louka (Zdenek Sverak) looks enough like Sean Connery to make hearts flutter, and he has the same sardonic charm. But he is broke and needs a car, and so he listens when his gravedigger pal makes an offer. The pal's Soviet niece must get married or she'll be sent back to Russia, where she does not want to go. The niece and her chain-smoking aunt will pay Louka to go through a phony marriage.
Against his better judgment, he does. Then the niece skips to West Germany to join a former boyfriend, leaving behind her 5-year-old son, Kolya (Andrej Chalimon). The aunt dies, and Louka is stuck with the kid. This puts a severe cramp in his love life (the kid is delivered in the middle of a would-be seduction), and besides he knows nothing about kids, and this one speaks only Russian, a language Louka has on principle refused to learn.
The outlines of this story are conventional and sentimental (is there any doubt he will come to love the child?). What makes “Kolya” special is the way it paints the details. Like the films of the Czech New Wave in the late 1960s, it has a cheerful, irreverent humor, and an eye for the absurdities of human behavior. Consider Louka's old mother, who refuses to care for the child because she will not have a Russian in the house, and watch the scene where Russian army trucks stop outside her cottage and the kid hears his native language and runs out happily to talk to the soldiers.