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Slovak Studies Program

Martin Votruba

 

The Shop on Main Street

Obchod na korze

 

 

The highest-rated film in the history of Slovak, Czech, and Czechoslovak cinema, The Shop on Main Street approaches a burning topic of guilt, complicity, and helplessness faced by many in Europe during World War II. It starred Slovakia's favorite actor Jozef Kroner as carpenter Tono Brtko and Polish veteran theater actress Ida Kamińska as the Jewish widow Rozália Lautmannová. It became the first production from Central Europe, democratic or communist-dominated, to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Kamińska was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1966.
Film release
It was the only film from the communist-dominated part of Central Europe released swiftly in several democratic countries (US: 24 Jan. 1966; Finland: 14 Feb. 1966; Sweden: 20 march 1966; West Germany: 14 Oct. 1966; Denmark: 25 July 1968), but, tellingly, not in the Soviet bloc countries, which preferred heroized depictions of their recent pasts. The making and release of The Shop on Main Street was possible in Czechoslovakia in the period of growing political and cultural relaxation.
Plot summary
During World War II, a mild-mannered carpenter Tono Brtko (Jozef Kroner) is offered the chance to take over the sewing notions store of an old, near-deaf Jewish woman Rozália Lautmannová (Ida Kamińska) as part of the enactment of an Aryanization regulation in the town. As Tono attempts to explain to Lautmannová, who is largely confused and oblivious of the world outside, that he has come to be her supervisor and owner of the store, Imrich Kuchár (Martin Hollý, Sr.), a Slovak opponent of Aryanization, steps in and reveals to Brtko that the business is less than profitable. Without being aware of it, Lautmannová lives on donations.
The Jewish community offers the amiable Brtko a weekly payment if he does not give up the store, which would otherwise be given to a new, possibly ruthless Aryanizer. Tono accepts and lets Lautmannová believe he is her nephew who has come to help in the store. Their relationship grows warm and tender, until the authorities round up the town's Jewish population for transport, and Tono faces the dilemma of whether to turn in Lautmannová, who appears to have been left off the list of deportees, or undertake to hide the doddering woman and risk his own peril. When Lautmannová finally realizes she is in danger, she panics, and in an attempt to hide her from an approaching officer, Tono accidentally kills her. The realization devastates him, and he hangs himself.
Screenplay
The screenplay had a bilingual Czech−Slovak history. The screenwriter Ladislav Grosman (1921, Humenné – 1981, Tel Aviv–Kiron, Israel) was born and grew up in Slovakia. He became proficient in Czech after he moved to Czechoslovakia's Czech-speaking part in his late twenties, where he worked as a correspondent and editor in the Prague Bureau of the Slovak newspaper Pravda published in Bratislava, and later in the Slovak Book bookstore in Prague. Grosman felt more comfortable writing his precursor to the screenplay, the short story “The Trap” (Past), in Slovak and had it translated to Czech for publication in a Prague literary journal in 1962. Only three of its themes made it into the film. He subsequently reworked and expanded it, in Czech again, as a literary-narrative screenplay published in 1964 under the title "The Shop on Main Street" ("Obchod na korze"), which already contained the film's storyline, although not in the usual (American) screenplay format. He then reworked it into a shooting script with Slovak dialogues in cooperation with the film's designated directors Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos. The only other language in the film is Yiddish (sometimes misidentified as German) limited to several lines that Mrs. Lautmannová mutters to herself. Her Hebrew reading from the siddur is indistinct.
Directors
Ján Kadár (1918, Budapest – 1979, Los Angeles), who called himself a "Czechoslovak film director for life" in an interview for The Los Angeles Times, was born in the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, a province of Austria–Hungary which included present-day Slovakia at that time. Before long, his parents brought him to Rožňava, Slovakia, in the newly created Czechoslovakia, where he grew up. Kadár took up the law in Bratislava after high school, but soon transferred to the first Department of Film in Czechoslovakia (probably the third such department in Europe) at the School of Industrial Arts in Bratislava in 1938 where he took classes with Slovak film's notable director Karel Plicka until the department was closed in 1939.
Kadár began his directing career in Bratislava, Slovakia, after World War II. After several documentaries expressive of the views of the Communist Party, which he joined, Kadár moved to Prague in 1947 and returned to Bratislava temporarily in order to make his first feature film Kathy (Katka, 1950). Beginning from 1951, he co-directed all his Czechoslovak films with Elmar Klos solely in Prague except their Czech−Slovak projects Death Is Called Engelchen (Slovak: Smrť sa volá Engelchen, Czech: Smrt si říká Engelchen, 1963), The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze, 1965), and Adrift (Czech: Touha zvaná Anada, Slovak: Túžba zvaná Anada, Hungarian: Valamit visz a víz, 1969) shot with Slovak, Hungarian, and Czech actors on location at Rusovce in Slovakia. Kadár returned to finish the latter one from the United States where he immigrated in November 1968. It was his last work with Klos. He then resumed his career in the U.S. and Canada working in both films and television. He was also a professor of film directing at the American Film Institute's Center for Advanced Film Studies.
Elmar Klos was a Moravian-Czech who codirected films with Ján Kadár for 19 years. He focused on the production aspects of the job. His directing career faltered after Ján Kadár's defection to the U.S. Juraj Herz (b. 1934, Kežmarok, Slovakia), assistant director on The Shop on Main Street, was at the beginning of his own successful directing career.
Casting
The Shop on Main Street was filmed on location at the town of Sabinov in north-eastern Slovakia with numerous local extras whose voices bring in hints of the eastern regional variety of Slovak. Ida Kamińska's Polish accent is employed to the same effect.

 

 

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Directors Ján Kadár (1918-1979)
Elmar Klos (1910-1993)
Screenplay, book Ladislav Grosman (1921-1981)
Screenplay Ladislav Grosman
Ján Kadár
Elmar Klos
Cinematography Vladimír Novotný (1914-1997)
Music Zdeněk Liška (1922-1983)
Editing Jaromír Janáček (b. 1923)
Diana Heringová
Art direction Karel Škvor (1924-1995)
Sound Dobroslav Šrámek (1913-1963)
Language Slovak, Yiddish
Location Sabinov
Running time 1h 30'
Release date 8 October 1965
   
Characters Cast
Tono, Anton Brtko Jozef Kroner (1924-1998)
Rozália Lautmannová Ida Kamińska (1899-1980)
Evelína Brtková, Tono's wife Hana Slivková (1923-1984)
Imrich Kuchár, accountant, resistance member Martin Hollý Sr. (1904-1965)
Markuš Kolkocký, town commander Franišek Zvarík (1921-2008)
Róžika, Ružena Kolkocká, Markuš's wife, Evelína's sister Elena Pappová-Zvaríková (1935-1974)
Piti-báči (Uncle Piti), town crier Adam Matejka (1905-1988)
Katz, barber Martin Gregor (1906-1982)
Andorič, railroad employee, Lautmann's neighbor František Papp (1930-1983)
Andoričová, his wife Gita Mišurová (b. 1929)
Blau, publisher, Jewish community treasurer Eugen Senaj (1901-1981)
Eliášová, Lautmannová's neighbor Lujza Grossová (1917-1981)
Danko, Daniel Eliáš, her son J. Mittelman
Marian Peter, paramilitary guard officer, former tailor Mikuláš Ladžinský (1923-1987)
Balko-báči (Uncle Balko), brass-band conductor Alojz Kramár (1916-1985)
Tobacconist Tibor Vadaš (1916-1985)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

skww2-350
Slovakia sandwiched between expanded Germany and Hungary during World War II.