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The Shop on Main Street Reviews

Among the most highly praised Eastern European films of the 1960s, THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET is a profoundly moving tragicomedy set against a WWII backdrop of racial hatred and fascism. Tono Brtko (Kroner) seemingly walks through life without any guiding morals or principles. He is content just to get by--though his domineering wife, Evelina (Slivkova), who longs for a more comfortable existence, tries to force him into working for her fascist brother-in-law, Marcus (Zvarik). One night Marcus brings news that Tono has been appointed Aryan comptroller of a Jewish button shop, a job that will bring money and status. Tono visits the shop the next day, informing the aged, frail, and rheumatic proprietress, Rozalie (Kaminska), that he is now in charge. She, however, too deaf to understand and too blind to read his authorization, begins bossing him around. Only later does Tono learn that the shop is completely bankrupt, and that the old woman is supported by her fellow Jewish merchants. He eventually agrees to the charade of working as Rozalie's assistant and forms a strong friendship with her that transcends racial, religious, and political divisions. But the Nazis soon appear, setting off a series of ironic--and highly dramatic--developments. Codirected by the team of Kadar and Klos, THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET is a relatively straightforward narrative, without the stylistic virtuosity of so many other films by young Eastern European filmmakers. What the film lacks in flash, however, it makes up for in craftsmanship and intelligence. The acting is excellent throughout, and Kroner and Kaminska are both spellbinding. When Tono must decide between turning Rozalie over to the Nazis or trying to hide her, the film's careful buildup begins to pay off. When the elderly woman finally realizes what is happening around her and Tono desperately tries to shut her up, you may feel your guts wrenching in awe, terror and pity. Mixing a comic tone with a tragic subject, the film paints a uniquely vivid portrait of wartime persecution and enforces the view that the greatest, most inhumane of tragedies can strike anyone at any time.