Shop on Main Street The (1965) – full review!
aka Obchod na korze (1965)
This World War II drama from Czechoslovakia won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award; additionally lead Ida Kaminska was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. It was directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos; both are credited with adapting the story by Ladislav Grosman. Unlike a lot of foreign language dramas the subtitles are non-obtrusive: easy to read without missing any of the story.
It’s based in Czechoslovakia which is under German rule in 1942; the Fascist party is in charge. Jozef Króner plays Antonin ‘Tono’ Brtko an out-of-work henpecked carpenter whose brother-in-law Marcus Kolkotsky (Frantisek Zvarík) is his town’s Fascist leader. Marcus is overseeing the construction of a tall monument in the town square. Hana Slivková plays Tono’s wife Evelyna; Helena Zvaríková plays his sister-in-law Rose. All celebrate when Marcus gives Tono the ownership papers of a button “Shop on Main Street” his family is about to be rich. After a drunken night of celebration Tono ventures to “his” shop to find an old Jewish woman Rozalie Lautmann (Kaminska) sitting in a chair. She asks if he can help him and he’s polite. When he tells her that he’s the Aryan controller for her shop the old woman doesn’t understand; she thinks he comes to work there. Just then a friend of both Imro Kuchar (Martin Hollý) enters the shop. When Imro understands what is going on he pulls Tono aside; Imro’s disgusted by what’s happened but knowing his friend’s character decides to let him in on what he knows. Mrs. Lautmann is almost destitute but she’s been provided for by some other Jews in town who’ve cared for her since her husband’s death. The shop’s inventory is nearly nonexistent; Imro shows Tono that almost all the boxes are empty. At first Tono is outraged he feels he’s been cheated by his brother-in-law. But knowing what the Fascists will do if Tono complains Imro convinces his friend to go along with the arrangement: Tono pretends to be her assistant. Imro tells them that he and his Jewish friends will provide Tono with a monthly stipend that will exceed his current situation too. Tono accepts and a carpenter at heart spends his time refinishing Mrs. Lautmann’s old furniture while she minds the store. Evelyna unaware of the arrangement is thrilled to have food and other extravagances that she’s never had before.
Tono’s relationship with Mrs. Lautmann grows; even though they can barely communicate she accurately senses his good nature and treats (and feeds) him like a son. However when the Fascists start rounding up all the Jews Tono is faced with a dilemma. Tono’s wife tells him to find out where the old woman keeps her gold before she is taken away; Tono is enraged because he’s come to care for Mrs. Lautmann and he strikes Evelyna before he leaves. Tono goes to the store where he tries to tell Mrs. Lautmann what is going on tries to hide her without success. Once all the Jews have been assembled in the square across from the shop Tono grows increasingly desperate about the situation. She remains oblivious of the danger to her and had even recently ventured out into the street. Tono realizes it’s hopeless. He sits in the store and drinks; the alcohol makes him remember the words his friend had spoken before he too was taken away and beaten by the Fascists: “the only thing worse than a Jew is a Jew lover”. Tono now believes that his brother-in-law has set him up. He starts packing Mrs. Lautmann’s things and tries to usher her out to the street with the others. However she finally realizes that a pogrom is occurring. She’s horrified and hysterical at the same time. But by now the Fascists have taken the Jews away and Mrs. Lautmann is seemingly safe for the moment. When his brother-in-law and another man approach the store Tono tries to quiet Mrs. Lautmann by pushing her into a closet and closing its door. When the men have moved on he returns to find that when he’d accidentally killed her in the process so he hangs himself.