Monday, August 9, 2010

Obchod na korze (The Shop on Main Street) (1965)

My newfound love of Daisies has me pressing forward into the Czechoslovak New Wave with the Oscar-winning holocaust drama The Shop On Main Street. In a small Slovakian town the Nazi invasion has launched the compulsory construction of a huge monument as well as the shifting of Jewish businesses to Aryan managers. Carpenter Tono Brtko (Josef Króner), at the urging of his naggy wife Evelyna (Hana Slivková), is unwillingly assigned to manage the sewing supply store of the Jewish widow Mrs Lautmann (Ida Kaminska). She is near-deaf and near-blind, with arthritic hands and a seeming inability to comprehend the situation- she may not even be aware there's a war on.

Tono discovers a secret network of local Jewish businessmen who pay off their "Aryanators" and keep their businesses running themselves, so he works at the store as what the widow assumes is "extra help", she keeps her profits, and he gets a weekly cheque from the secret collection. It works well for a time, but the full progression of Hitler's Aryanization plan reaches their town soon enough, and Tono must determine his true loyalties.

I'm sort of a sucker for films about WWII and the Holocaust. I find the period fascinating, with a range of amazing true stories and different approaches. I also go for really sad movies sort of often, so it fits. The Shop on Main Street offers a view of the time I'd never known before- the effects on small-town Slovakia. It resembles a slice-of-life tale in its pacing but offers up extra-ordinary subject matter, resulting in a heartfelt and realistic portrayal of one unremarkable man's struggle against incredible power and unbelievable cruelty.

Króner's performance is down-to-earth and nuanced, ranging from drunken and argumentative, to downtrodden and conflicted, to in-charge and confident. Never one for proactive decisions or selfless acts, Tono is suddenly responsible for a human life, and goes through a host of emotions as he deals with the consequences of this realization. Kaminska is wonderful as the aging widow, sometimes playing for laughs and other times for frustration, but easily winning the audience's sympathies and support for her sweetness and innocence.

The film shows its age a bit with the utter lack of depth or development in the character of Evelyna, Tono's money-obsessed wife, and I did not appreciate this sexist approach to the one non-Nazi villain of the story. It's the main thing that keeps it from a higher rating. Looking past that, The Shop on Main Street is a beautifully shot, dramatically paced, and emotionally resonant film that offers a different perspective of a period so often put to film. It won the Best Foreign Picture Oscar for 1965, and it's not hard to see why.



  1. Such a great movie! That scene towards the end when Mrs. Lautmann finally realizes what's going on gets me every time. Ida Kaminska was a terrific actress. Great review.

  2. This is a film I had not yet heard of, but sounds very interesting. Thanks for pointing it out. Not sure if you've seen already, but there is a blogging Award going around called the "Happy 101" Award...I tagged your site for this in my most recent posting here for you!