THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET (Ján Kádar, Elmar Klos, 1965)

Wearyingly slack, aurally bedecked with bursts of heavenly choir, Obchod na korze provides a sentimental anecdote touching on the Holocaust. It was co-directed by Ján Kádar and Elmar Klos, the latter of whom, a Czech, allowed his partner free rein. Born in Budapest, Kádar spent the Second World War in a labor camp, losing both Jewish parents and a sister, at Auschwitz, to the Holocaust. The film, in Slovak, is set in Slovakia during the war. One of its two main characters, elderly Rozalie Lautmann, is Jewish. The story upon which the screenplay by Kádar and Klos is based is by Ladislav Grosman. The film won an Oscar in the foreign-language category the year that Masaki Kobayashi’s marvelous K[w]aidan (1964) also was nominated.
     Antonin Brtko is a poor carpenter whose wife’s brother, a Nazi, charges him with taking over the sewing shop on High Street owned by Rozalie; this is the last existing store operated by a non-Aryan. Near deaf as well as rheumatic, Rozalie doesn’t understand and believes she is taking on “Tono” as her assistant. They bond. The day of Jewish deportation arrives. Vodka-ed up, Tono goes back and forth between trying to convince Rozalie either to hide herself or join the others outside (so that he won’t be punished for concealing her). Rozalie simply can’t understand him but, when she belatedly sees what’s going on outside, asks, “Is this the end of the world?” After accidentally killing her, Tono hangs himself.
     The best scenes are those of the deportation arrangements shown through the window from inside the shop. But the whole film is dispiritingly obvious, with Tono, for instance, sitting at home beneath a giant crucifix on the wall, and irritating, what with Rozalie continually misunderstanding Tono. (When he wants to hide her from the Nazis, Rozalie thinks that Tono wants her to hide him from his angry wife.) Russian-born Ida Kamińska, co-founder of Poland’s State Jewish Theatre, plays Rozalie sweetly as an idealized grandmother-type. Her death barely registers because Rozalie never seemed real in the first place. This is also why the two dream sequences, in which Tono and Rozalie, open friends walking arm-in-arm on a whited-out peacetime High Street, also fail to make an impact. The second such scene, incidentally, must be Kádar’s dream since it closes the film, by which time both Rozalie and Tono are dead. Besides being luminous, these passages are without speech, garbed in white, and adorned by slow motion.
     Facile; somewhat freakish.

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