I was curious about this movie mainly because I wanted to see why the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide gave it four stars. It’s not particularly acclaimed by other critics, though it did win the Oscar for best foreign film. Anyway, old Leonard was right about this one. Sometimes a film creates a completely realistic world that is nevertheless a world of its own, a world you have never seen before in life or in cinema. The Shop on Main Street is one such film. It completely cast a spell over me and I loved every minute of it.
Why? First of all has to be the wonderful performance and wonderfully expressive face of lead actor Josef Kroner. You sympathise with him as an everyman in a difficult situation trying to do the right thing but failing because of the utter ludicrousness of the wider political world. Perhaps the film meant to say something about communism in 1965 as much as it did about wartime Nazism. Also very good are Ida Kaminska as the old Jewish woman whose shop has been commandeered and given to Kroner to manage -the film is set in Czechoslovakia in 1942- and Martin Hollý Sr. as a kind of liaison man between the Jewish community and the ‘Aryans’ who take over their businesses. In fact I enjoyed being in the company of all the characters and I think that was partly because their general demeanour was a very sympathetic one of quiet resignation and partly because of the pleasant- and fresh-sounding Czech language itself, not often heard by me.
The story is compelling, the dialogue is always interesting, the last half hour is very tense and the ending is moving. You can’t ask for much more than that. The way the film is lit is very attractive and it has a powerful musical scheme - the main waltz theme repeated several times plus bursts of eerie strings to punctuate vital moments. It’s one of the best European films of the 60’s (and in the era of Bergman, Truffaut, Godard, Fellini, Visconti, etc that’s saying something).
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