Director: Ján Kadár, Elmar Klos
Starring: Idá Kaminská, Jozef Króner, Hana Slivková Martin Hollý
Language: Slovak, Yiddish
Duration: 125 min.
Slovakia during WWII. Tono lives a poor life, but the authorities appoint him the Aryan controller of a Jewish widow's little button shop. She is old and confused and thinks that he is only looking for employment and hires him. Tono and the old woman form a friendship, but when the order goes out that all Jews are to be rounded up, he is forced to make a difficult decision.
The Shop on Main Street is a Czechoslovak New Wave film directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, based on a novel written by Ladislav Grosman. It premiered at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, and won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the first Czechoslovakian film to do so.
Psychological dramas based on the holocaust and WWII are one of the prevailing topics for these early Czech New Wave films. Already I've seen Romeo Juliet and Darkness, The Boxer and Death, Diamonds of the Night, and The Fifth Horseman is Fear, all films that deal with a personal story within those troubled times. The Shop on Main Street tackles these same familiar themes with a welcome light touch, and two exceptional acting performances from Jozef Króner and Ida Kaminská.
Króner plays Tono Brtko, a hapless small town carpenter with an incessantly nagging wife (Hana Slivková) and a fascist officer brother-in-law (Frantisek Zvarik). Tono wants nothing to do with politics, and ekes out a meager living doing odd jobs. However his brother-in-law decides to do him a 'favor' and has Tono appointed the Aryan controller of a rundown button and textile shop on their town's main street. The shop is run by kindly but senile Jewish widow Mrs. Lautmann, played by the Polish born Kaminská in an Oscar Best Lead Actress nominated performance, no easy feat for an actress in a foreign film. She's barely there, and is completely clueless about the fascist fervor sweeping over the town and thinks Tono is there not to take over but to look for a job. The two begin to get along quite well, however when all the town's Jews are ordered deported, Tono must decide if he will become a soulless collaborator or labelled a Jew-lover.
Although this is some rather heavy subject matter, it's not all grim. Kadár and Klos keep things light for the most part, pairing the not too bright or ambitious Tono with the charming Mrs. Lautmann in some frequently humorous moments. The bond that develops between them is actually quite sweet. But obviously the good times can't last, and in the last act Króner shines as he struggles with bottle in hand over his impossible choice.
The Shop on Main Street offers a story we already know well, but does so with an always honest and natural screenplay, a careful and delicate balance between the lighthearted and the tragic, and a pair of unforgettable performances.
— Bonjour Tristesse