Precious Bodily Fluids

The Shop on Main Street


The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze) won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film back in 1965 (when Red Beard should’ve won), and it’s not surprising that it did. Like La vita è bella a number of years later, both films employ strong tropes of melodrama in a European World War II context and feature narratives revolving around Jews. Both feature comedy at times but shoot for an ending that is more sentimental (not necessarily in a bad way) than thoughtful. Both have elements in them that are slightly incredible (in the literal sense). In The Shop on Main Street, the woman shop owner (or so she thinks) is quite deaf – not so deaf that she can’t somehow maintain a shop (with minimal help from the protagonist Jozef) but too deaf ever to begin to grasp the events surrounding and deeply affecting her in the Nazi-occupied Slovak State. Granted, neighbors and rabbis swing by to help, but credulity is not the main goal of this film. Something like identification is the goal instead. Jozef plays a Sydney Carton-like figure of redemption here, only more flawed and without as glorious an ending. Anything but revisionist history, films like The Shop on Main Street appeal to the popular readings of WWII history and insist on a perpetual humanitarian response to events that did not happen so long ago. Though it must be conceded that there are Christ-like aspects to the person of Jozef, it is very difficult to believe that Ján Kadár intended this. If anything, the fact that Jozef is a carpenter and, in a sense, dies for a Jew, contrasts all the more with the fact that he is himself not a Jew, he fails ever to articulate or even understand his place in the shop or life in general, he is an alcoholic, and his eventual demise is in the vein of Macbeth or Hamlet, not Christ. This is certainly not to say that the film isn’t worthwhile for what it is, but to observe that its tragedy-melodrama tone put it in a tradition that is well-established. It is perhaps best understood as worthwhile for what it indicates about the Czech/Slovak state-of-mind-and-heart about the war by the time of the 60s rather than innovative in terms of film form. (Image from here.)

This entry was published on October 2, 2009 at 12:01 pm. It’s filed under 1960s Cinema, Czech(oslovakian) Film and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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