The Shop on Main Street (1965)
Director: Jan Kadar.
Starring: Josef Króner (Antonin 'Tono' Brtko), Ida Kaminska (Rozalia Lautmannová), Hana Slivkova (Evelyna Brtková), Frantisek Svarik (Markus Kolkocký), Martin Hollý (Imro Kuchar), Martin Gregor (Jozef Katz, barber).
A Czechoslovakian film about an old Jewish woman who because of anti-Semitism loses her button shop. She then has to rely on another to help here survive the aftermath.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Prisoners walk in the yard in a circle. Outside a band plays in the park. People are walking around enjoying the lovely weather. A painter is putting on the last strokes of his painting of the local church. "After Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia and declared the area Slovakstatt, the persecution policy was adopted by Tis' regime."
On the eve of 1942. A train full of German soldiers and artillery passes by a small town. A man named Tony with a dog sitting in his cart waits for the train to pass. He then pulls the cart and dog across the tracks to the other side of the road.
On the farm a woman calls out for Tony. Tony is in the outhouse. He comes out and his wife Evelyn asks him if he took the trough to Mrs. Firic? And did Mrs. Firic pay him? Tony gives the woman the money he received. He says Mrs. Firic also gave him two pigeons. Evelyn is disappointed in receiving so little for the trough made by Tony.
Evelyn starts cleaning the steps and asks Tony if he saw the new structure being erected on the square? She says the whole town is talking about it. Tony is not really interested in the monument. The woman says Tony is too stuck-up even to go see his own brother-in-law. She wants him to tell Mark that others in the town are fighting at the front. He says to hell with Mark! Evelyn says Tony would be sick if her ever used the Fascist greeting. He tells her to shut-up.
Tony and his dog start walking toward Main Street. He is fed up with the constant nagging of his wife. She always yells at him to do this or to do that. A shop owner named Geza sees Tony and tells him to stay away from that whole wooden monument because its nothing but dirty Fascist politics.
Tony goes over to look at the work on the monument. The guys at work on the monument yell down to Brtko asking him if he has come to help them? Mr. Kuchar asks him if he has come to inspect the work on the monument? Tony says maybe a little. Kuchar refers to the work as a wooden Tower of Babylon. Mr. Kuchar points down the road and tells Tony that His Excellency is coming. Tony says he's leaving and Kuchar asks why is he running away? Tony says his brother-in-law can go to the devil.
Kuchar says the fellow has grown fat with his good position. Mark sees his brother-in-law starting to come over. Kuchar tells Tony to smile at the man! But Tony just walks away from Mark, who is left behind wondering why Tony is just walking away from him without saying anything?
At home Tony is soaking his feet. His wife kicks his slippers out of the way.
Suddenly Mark and Rosie come into the house. Tony just stares at Mark. Mrs. Brtko at the ironing board seems stunned, but when she sees her sister Rosie she welcomes her very warmly. Mark has brought a lot of food over from the delicatessen's shop. When Evelyn sees the bottle of rum she is thrilled.
The ironing board and shirt catch fire. Tony puts it out with a pail of water.
The family sits down for dinner. Mark says let's have a toast to Tony's Patron Saint of Carpenters! Everyone except Tony starts singing and acting merry. Tony gets up to say yes they have received a lot of presents from the relatives, but what he wants to know is who will compensate him for the loss of his inheritance? Who will make up for the garden? Who bribed the lawyer? Who paid the notary to ignore the register? And who threw him out like a dog when he came to ask for a job working on the monument?
Mark has his own grudges, asking does Tony realize how wealthy he, Mark, would be now if Tony had just joined the Fascist Guard? Because of Tony, they call him an alibist. Mark says to hell with Tony's garden and his farm. Mark now pulls out an ordnance allowing Tony to take over the textile shop of the Jewish widow H. Lautmann, Hlinka Square 69. Tony is stunned but Evelyn is absolutely thrilled at the news. She sits on Marki's lap and lets him run his hand down her right breast.
Rosie gives Tony a really fancy cigarette case. Tony slowly looks it over.
The drinking continues and Tony drinks down 10 straight shots of rum. Now he gets up on a chair and puts a comb under his nose to mimic the Fuhrer. He starts spouting off, but then falls off his chair. He runs over to throw up and Mark says didn't he tell them that Tony was a coward and not a man? He can't hold his liquor! Everybody is stinking drunk by now.
The next morning Evelyn is very nice to Tony for a change. What's her angle in all this? Well, she tells Tony that he should already be working at the shop today. She is indeed in a very good mood. Evelyn sees Tony go off to work and tells him not to give anyone credit. If they don't have cash, then they can't buy.
Tony goes inside the shop. Mrs. Lautmann is sitting in a corner of the shop. He talks a bit to the widow until he gets to what he came for. He finally takes out the ordnance allowing him to take over the shop. She says her eye-sight isn't good so she can't read it. Tony explains: "I have been appointed Aryan manager of your shop." She doesn't understand what he's talking about. She thinks he wants buttons.
Tony tries to explain the situation. He says: "You are Jewish, right? Well, and I am an Aryan. The Jewish shops are all gone! That's the law. Now only Aryans can keep shops. That's what they call 'Aryanization'. Understand?" She says: "I don't." She asks if he is the rent-collector or perhaps the bailiff? He says no, he is her Aryan. While Tony is having no luck with his explanation, a man named Imre Kuchar comes into the shop. He reads the ordnance and asks Rosalie to go into the kitchen and make them some tea.
Imre tells Tony that he's an old fool that they've cheated. He is speaking of Tony's brother-in-law. Imre shows him what he means by pulling down box after box that is completely empty. He asks: "Don't you know that they've already divided all the good Jewish shops among themselves!?" He says Kolkocky threw him a mere bone. Furthermore, the widow lives on the alms given to her by the Jewish community. Tony says he's going to go tell those cheaters off! Mr. Kuchar warns Tony not to do this. He has a suggestion for Tony.
Mr. Kuchar wants Tony to take over the shop, rather than some vulture. Tony won't have to really do anything.
The widow comes out and Kuchar tells everyone to sit down and have some tea. Now he will explain to Rosalie who Tony is. Tony is Lilly's cousin. The sweet fellow has volunteered to help Rosalie out with her store for a month or two, or perhaps even longer. Tony starts to say that this is all wrong, but Kuchar tells him to butt out because he says he knows what he's doing. The widow tells Tony that he will be like her own son.
Kuchar and Tony go outside to talk. He explains to Tony that Katz the barber is the cashier and Tony will get his "wages" from him weekly. As the Aryan administrator for Rosalie's shop, Tony has become an employee of the Jewish Community and will receive a regular wage.
Tony goes home and soaks his feet again. He tells his wife a very sweet story about how cooperative the widow is and that she is willing to be his assistant. Evelyn says don't let the widow cheat him. She then says she has bought a notebook for Tony in which he is to keep an account of the shop.
On Saturday morning, Tony comes to the shop but it is closed. He starts to panic. He can't seem to get her attention by banging on the door. He has to go around back and come in that way. There he runs into the widow and tells her that they have to open up the shop. She says that today is the Sabbath and she never opens up for business on the Sabbath. Tony says they still have to open on the Sabbath. He runs to find Kuchar. He finds the man playing pool. He complains that no one told him about the Sabbath. Kurchar says he will handle this.
Kuchar gives Tony a sign to pin up on the door. The sign says: "Closed for inventory". Tony then stays in the widow's home. He starts looking around and sees all kinds of things that need fixing. Tony tells the widow that Monday he will come with his tools and start fixing up things in the house.
Tony's dog jumps through the open window into the house. The widow seems afraid of dogs and she tries to hide behind a closet door. Tony tells her that she has nothing to worry about concerning the dog because the dog is his and he doesn't bite. The next door neighbor comes out. She often looks in after the widow and does favors like lighting the fire and going shopping for Rosalie.
Tony puts the dog out since the widow stills seems afraid of him.
Rosalie gives some nice suits to Tony that used to be worn by her husband. She also gives him a nice hat.
On Sunday Tony wears the suit and hat to church. The extended family of four walk down the streets of the town along with many other families. The two sisters split off to go shopping and Mark and Tony continue walking down the street. Tony has to keep tipping his hat to person after person walking down the street. Mark tells Tony that he is going to clean out this town of all dirty Jew-lovers, like Mr. Kuchar. He warns Tony not to get too close with Kuchar. Mark points to the H. Lautmann sign and says that Jewish sign must disappear from Main Street.
Tony continues improving the look of the old furniture in the house. One day, however, the shop is overrun with customers. Tony tries to help out but he knows nothing about buttons, fabrics and sewing. He overturns a big box of buttons and makes a mess the elderly lady has to clean up.
A loud speaker is placed up on a shop facing the park. The town-crier is outraged and he shouts: "Those tin loudspeakers can never replace me." The town-crier goes into the barber shop. A little later Tony comes by. Barber Katz asks if the town-crier could come back tomorrow. This makes the man mad because he was here before Tony. Then he turns nasty: "You think I am not onto your escapades? I know everything, I tell you! I'll report you!" In fact, he says, he will get paid for reporting them to the authorities. The fellow leaves but quickly returns telling the guys they don't have to be scared of him. He is not going to denounce them.
Evelyn is very pleased with the money Tony is bringing in. They have a lot more and better quality food now and this really pleases Evelyn. She also talks about how rich Rosalie must be with all her gold and jewels. Tony presents her with some perfume and she goes crazy for that too.
Tony goes outside and has a smoke. Evelyn is so happy that she pulls her top down and spritzes the perfume all over her. (Tony only sees her back.) She is in such a good mood that she wants to have sex with her husband.
Mr. Andric tells Tony that something terrible is going to happen. The train station is full of Fascist Guards. "They've come to take the Jews." Tony just dismisses the idea, but Mr. Andric tells him that he should tell the old lady about it. So Tony starts searching for Rosalie but can't find her. He goes outside to search the streets. It takes him awhile, but he finds her. Rosalie, however, is so worried that the customers are back at the shop stealing them blind that Tony has to return to the shop.
Tony hears from the band leader that his band will be playing for the Jews to cheer up their departure. The barber is packing up his suitcase. He remarks that the town-crier already has another job: taking the call-up cards to the Jews. He's cut hair in this town for 40 years and now he has to leave. His property has been requisitioned. Tony says he doesn't understand what's going on. The barber says he doesn't know either but he does know that "when the laws go against innocent people -- that's the end. The end of those who passed them."
Tony is a little too naive and this irritates Mr. Katz. Of course, he is packing too. Are he and Mrs. Lautmann supposed to fight the Fascist Guards by themselves? Tony says goodbye to Mr. Katz. As Tony leaves the store, Mr. Katz starts crying.
The monument is getting close to being finished.
Mr. Kutchar has been caught and badly beaten. He is transported to the square and a sign is placed on him: "I am a Jew lover".
Evelyn is nagging Tony again. She says that Tony promised her that he would find the widow's gold for her. Tony gets extremely mad at Evelyn and starts slapping her again and again. She finally begs him to stop and he does. He grabs his jacket and out he goes.
Tony goes to a restaurant/tavern and talks with the town crier. The fellow tells Tony that if they are going to hide the widow, they have to do it tonight. A Czech fascist gives everyone a warning. He says: "We are going to catch all Jew-Bolsheviks, Freemasons, plutocrats and other riff-raff and have no mercy on them." The fascist tells everyone to come with him and they will see a sight they have never seen before. He specifically tells Tony to come along. The town crier tells Tony that they better go along, so Tony goes with him.
Everyone goes to the monument and the fascist turns on the lights on the monument. Tony sneaks away from the celebration. He goes to see Rosalie. Tony tells her she has to hide because they are going to take her away in the morning. Rosalie doesn't believe him, thinking him drunk. She tells him to go into the shop and she will be right there.
Mrs. Lautmann just can't understand what is going on. She hasn't a clue. She thinks Tony got thrown out by his wife, he got drunk and can't return home until the drink wears off. Tony tries again and again to explain things to her, but she just doesn't really hear what he's saying. She goes back to bed.
Tony is very upset and drinks some more liquor. He has a dream that he and Mrs. Lautmann are all dressed up and going for a nice walk.
Tony awakens in the morning to the sounds of the roundup of the Jews. They are told to show their registration cards.
Mrs. Lautmann gets up like she always does and goes about her routine duties. Tony realizes that they have to open the shop. So he does so.
Mrs. Lautmann sees this and gets extremely upset that the Sabbath has been disrespected. She is very mad at Tony. He says okay, but she has to stay out of the shop for today.
Tony sees the town-crier right outside his door. So he lets the man into the shop. The town-crier believes Tony's brother-in-law exempted Mrs. Lautmann from the mass round-up. He even tells Tony: "You're lucky to have such a brother-in-law!" The guy leaves. Tony says that the fellow just doesn't know his brother-in-law.
Tony goes in to tell Mrs. Lautmann that he won't let them get her. She just believes that Tony is still drunk, which he is.
His brother-in-law tells the Jewish people that since they are in a war, they are being sent to labor camps.
Mrs. Lautmann comes into the shop and sees the big commotion going on outside her shop door. She asks if this is the end of the world? She asks Tony if he understands what is going on? But Tony just stares at her in an alcoholic haze. She goes back into her house.
The dog starts scratching at the front door. Not getting any result, the dog starts barking to get in. Tony opens the door a little ways and lets the dog into the shop.
In his drunkenness he decides that it's either her or him that has to go and it's going to be her. He starts packing her stuff up. Mrs. Lautmann still doesn't understand and she asks Tony to tell her what's happening? She comes into the store again and hears that the Jewish people are going to a labor camp. The elderly woman still says you doesn't understand. Now Tony tries to pull her over to the door to have her go with the other Jews.
And now he finally says that all the Jews are being deported. He begs her not to force him to throw her out. She asks if it is a pogrom? Now she really gets scared and runs into her house again. Tony goes into the house and breaks open a door to tell Rosalie that she will go like all the rest of the Jews are going. He says: "It's either you or me. I can't help it." And now the woman runs from Tony in fear for her life. And away go the wagons.
Now Tony asks her to forgive him. And now Mrs. Lautmann says she has to close the shop. Tony tells her to stay away from the shop doors because two fascists are headed their way. He grabs her and throws her into a closet and locks the door. But the two fascist are not interested in the store. They turn right and go away from the shop. Tony unlocks the closet door to let Mrs. Lautmann out, but he finds her dead. She tripped over a satchel and hit her head on the back wall.
Now Tony considers hanging himself. He lets his dog out of the back door. Tony hangs himself.
The last scene is of the spirits of Tony and Mrs. Lautmann running through the park.
Excellent film. It's a very touching story, but in the back of the mind is the knowledge that the film is about the Holocaust, so the ending probably is not going to be a happy one. The first part of the film is encouraging. Tony is assigned to be the Aryan who runs a Jewish store. Tony gets along with the elderly Jewish widow Rosalie who runs a fabric and sewing store and vice-versa. They help each other out and things at the shop start getting better. The Jewish people work around the Aryan law by running their own businesses and giving the Aryans owners a regular salary higher than the one they normally make. Tony likes the arrangement.
Knowing the Germans, this nice little arrangement is not going to work forever. And sure enough Tony is warned by a friend that the Fascist Guards are swarming into the train station and soon the Jews will be deported. Tony tries to explain to Rosalie what is happening to the Jews, but she just doesn't understand what he is talking about. His problem is that he's too sensitive just to blurt out the basic facts that the Jewish people are being deported.
And the actual day of deportation arrives and it is still not clear what is going to happen to the unknowing Rosalie. Are they going to hide her? Will the Germans come and take her forcefully out of her shop? Or is Tony going to get scared and turn her over to the fascists? No real decision has been made as the Jews are brought together in the center of the town. Apparently, the way the day plays out is going to determine what's going to happen to Tony and Rosalie. And so it works out that way.
Josef Króner (as Antonin 'Tono' Brtko) and Ida Kaminska (as the Jewish woman Rozalia Lautmannová) were both great in their respective roles.
In the film the audience gets a chance to really get to know the two main characters. And since the two characters are good, you care about what happens to them. Then the suspense tightens as the Germans tighten the pressure on the Jews of the small town. This tension then helps one get at least some appreciation of how terrible it was to live during the Holocaust.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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