Shop on Main Street, The (1965): Czech Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Language Feature

The noted stage Polish player, Ida Kaminska, was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for the Czech film, The Shop on Main Street, which was voted the 1965 Best Foreign Language Feature.
Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)
The Shop on Main Street
The shop on main street post.jpg

Film poster
The Premise:
Co-directed by Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos, who also co-wrote the script (with Ladislav Grossman), this tale is set in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, centering on an elderly Jewish shopkeeper who, being deaf, fails to fully realize the implications of the context in which she lives. When a carpenter (Josef Kroner) is appointed by his brother-in-law to be a controller of her shop, he tries to protect her from the Nazis. The seriocomic fable begins well but progressively gets sentimental, though Kaminska renders a grand performance.
Narrative Structure: Detailed Synopsis

During World War II, a mild-mannered Slovak carpenter Anton “Tóno” Brtko is offered ownership of the haberdasher store of an old and near-deaf Jewish woman, Rozália Lautmannová, while the Aryanization regulations are enacted.

Brtko tries to explain to Lautmannová, who’s oblivious to the world outside and rather confused, that he is now her supervisor and the owner of the store.

Meanwhile, Imrich Kuchár, a Slovak opponent of Aryanization, informs Brtko that the business is unprofitable and Lautmannová relies on donations.

The Jewish community then offers to pay Brtko a salary if he stays in charge, in order to prevent it being sold to the ruthless Aryanizer. He accepts and lets Lautmannová believe that he is her helpful nephew.

Their relationship grows until the authorities round up the Jews for transport. Brtko is conflicted as to whether he should turn in or hide Lautmannová.

At one low point, after drinking, he loses his nerve and attempts to force her to join the Jewish prisoners in the street, but then he stops upon seeing them taken away.

When Lautmannová becomes aware of the pogrom, she panics and, in trying to silence her, Brtko pushes her into a closet. She falls, breaking her neck, and dies.  The devastated Brtko then hangs himself.

The movie ends with a dream sequence, which shows Lautmannová and Brtko dancing through the town square together.

The Shop on Main Street was the first film from Eastern Europe ever to win an Oscar Award.

Co-directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, it was one of the key films in the Czech New Wave that flourished in the 1960s, before the Soviet invasion of 1968 destroyed this vital film movement, forcing many of its leaders into exile.

The noted British critic Kenneth Tynan wrote at the time that this was “the most moving film about anti-Semitism ever made.”

A political morality tale, the film forces viewers to take a stance, asking them, “If it had been you, what would you have done?”


Oscar Nominations: 2
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Actress: Ida Kaminska
Oscar Awards: 1
Best Foreign Language Film
Oscar Context
The other nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar were: “Blood on the Land” from Greece, “Dear John” from Sweden, “Kwaidan” from Japan,” and Marriage Italian Style” from Italy.
The winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Elizabeth Taylor for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?



Directed by Ján Kadár, Elmar Klos
Screenplay: Ladislav Grosman, Ján Kadár, Elmar Klos
Music by Zdeněk Liška
Cinematography Vladimír Novotný
Edited by Diana Heringová, Jaromír Janáček

Production company: Barrandov Studios

Release date: October 8, 1965

Running time: 125 minutes
Country Czechoslovakia
Languages: Slovak, Yiddish