An inept Czech peasant is torn between greed and guilt when the Nazi-backed bosses of his town appoint him "Aryan controller" of an old Jewish widow's button shop. Humor and tragedy fuse in this scathing exploration of one... more » cowardly man's complicity in the horrors of a totalitarian regime. Made near the height of Soviet oppression in Czechoslovakia, The Shop on Main Street features intense editing and camera work which won it the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Film in 1965.« less
""The Shop on Main Street" is one of the five best movies I have ever seen. This masterpiece from Czechoslovakia is one of the most humanistic films of all time, telling the epic story of the Nazi holocaust through two beautifully developed characters. This extraordinary film relies on understatement to chronicle an event that, when visualized fully, often becomes too unbearable to watch. Instead, the filmmakers concentrate on the conflict that develops when a well-meaning but timid carpenter must protect an elderly Jewish shopkeeper from persecution. This ingeniously worked out situation leads to a final half hour that is, perhaps, the most intensely dramatic and emotionally wrenching sequence in film history. The performances of Josef Kroner and Ida Kaminska are without peer and the eerie and haunting musical score lingers with the viewer long after this great film has ended. This film is the definition of great cinematic art!"
Excellent, but poorly translated
Roland E. Zwick | 04/08/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie rightfuly deserves all the praise and accolades given. The acting, camera work and editing are excellent and sadly, it's also historicaly accurate.Aside from the title sequence the spoken language is all Slovak and not Czech or any other form of convoluted Czech-Slovak dialect. Considering most Czechs were expelled from Slovakia during this period, it would be inconceivable for the director to have the actors speak Czech --the domestic audience would have never tolerated that. The english subtitles, however, contain many errors and poorly translated passages which detract from fully understanding the humour, sarcasm and even some events. There is some profanity, which is also translated into more tempered english terms.Here a two examples:In the subtitles, Tono's friend and neighbour Piti is refered to as Piti Batchi, which should be 'baci', the Hungarian word for 'uncle', that many south eastern Slovaks use as a term of endearment and respect. In one scene Tono calls Imro Kuchar --- Kuchar baci. The term Pan, which translates into Mr. --has a double meaning. Historically, it meant someone of nobility, a baron or a land holder. On two occasions Tono is refered to as "pan Brtko" but in a very sarcastic way. Once by Katz, the barber, while packing and later by the Hlinka Guard Luetenant Martin in the pub. I think Tono understands the ridicule, but doesn't understand why yet.The DVD should have included some historical background, as I believe many viewers will not be familiar with the history of the region during this period. This may confuse some viewers who may not understand the many references or the regalia displayed in the film.The movie is also a metaphor for life under Stalinism. Although it takes place during WWII, the jews can easily be replaced by non communists and the Hlinka Guards by the Stalinist era communists who persecuted all who stepped over the official party line. Even an innocent joke, deemed inappropriate, could carry a 5yr sentence. It was not uncommon for children to report their parents to the authorities for saying or doing something against the communist dogma tought to them in school. This is clearly evident in the barbershop scene with the angry Piti baci and later when Tono realises that he was "set up" by his own brother-in-law. Marcus Kolkotsky, the Hlinka Guard commander and Tono's brother-in-law knows Tono is a weak man, he says as much during the drinking party during which he calls Tono a coward when Tono can't hold down his liquor. He also made it very clear as to what would happen to anyone harbouring or aiding the jews. Only Kolkotsky could have made sure Mrs. Lautmann's 'call-up" card was never issued or delivered, only he knew the inner turmoil this would create within Tono and only he knew that no matter what happened, he had him."
A Compelling Tragedy
Eva M. Hadaway | Miami, FL United States | 07/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is important to understand that this is a Slovak film and a Slovak story, not a Czech one. The importance of the distinction lies in the fact that, while the Czech lands of Bohemia-Moravia were occupied by the Germans and ruled (with an iron fist) by the SS during the war, Slovakia remained a nominally independent Nazi puppet regime under a dictator named Tiso. The story of the main character is thus really the story of a struggle for the soul of that country during a time when a toxic mix of anti-semitism and nationalism led so many Slovaks to collaborate with the expulsion of the Jews from their land. Especially poignant is the way that the story highlights one of the most enduring social pathologies of that region of the world: petty envy, and the foolishness and outright evil that it leads to.This movie is so good that it's often difficult to watch. I highly recommend it for anyone seeking some insight into that part of history. A must-see companion film is the more recent Czech production, "Divided We Fall" (available on DVD), which portrays the story of a couple in a Czech village who have to pretend to be collaborators in order to cover the fact that they are hiding a Jew in their apartment. Although what the main characters do is ultimately heroic, the movie is honest enough not to portray them as noble, but as frightened people who feel trapped into a terrible moral dilemma. Unlike "The Shop on High Street," "Divided We Fall" exhibits the uniquely Czech characteristic of being tragic and funny at the same time."
Worth Waiting For
Randy Keehn | Williston, ND United States | 01/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I had heard of "The Shop on Main Street" years ago but never had the chance to see it until tonight. I even bought and read the book by Ladislaw Grosman 17 years ago in anticipation of seeing the movie some day. I must admit that the book was impressive but not THAT impressive and so I worried that the movie might be anticlimatical. It wasn't. The book was a long short story, a novella, if you will. It laid out the story clearly enough but it was the movie that brought all of the characters to life and created the gradual development of the impending crisis. By the time we reached that crisis we had met a few jerks and unimpressive characters. However, we had also come to know and appreciate a number of people that we found endearing for different reasons. As events darken the scene, we suspect something bad is about to happen. I knew what it was going to be but it still had an impact for me.
The two main characters in "The Shop on Main Street" are an elderly Jewish woman, played outstandingly by Ida Kaminska, and a neer-do-well Slovakian carpenter, played impressively by Josef Kraner. The way these two come to interact with each other and the ebb and flo of their relationship is the heart of the movie. The picture gives a personal look at the Final Solution as it is played out in a small Czech village. The emotions that the director brings out on film is where the movie soars above the book.
Watching "The Shop on Main Street" is a moving experience. It challenges us and leaves us wondering where we would have fit into this cast of characters. In doing so, we may come to have a slightly better understanding of the incomprehensible. That oxymoron is worth the two hours spent watching "The Shop on Main Street". The raw emotions on display will stay with you long after."
OK, BESIDES the translation.....
Joren R. Cain | Valdosta, GA USA | 05/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"...this movie is great. I'm not Czech and I know very little about Czech history or the language. What I DO know is that I responded very strongly to this movie and highly recommend it. The acting is great from the two lead actors, and the camera work is wonderful (especially right at the end). It is nice that the movie does not need to go into the horrors of concentration camps or be very explicit about it; it just touches on the knowledge that is in every viewer's head, and leaves it at that. I will say that the first half hour seemed a little slow, but the movie built momentum throughout, and for the last 20 minutes (at least) my eyes were glued to the screen.
The Criterion release is one of the no-frills releases, but the video and sound are, of course, very good. If you're looking for a different take on a WWII-related theme, check this out. It is very moving and well-done."