The Shop on Main Street (1966) became the highest rated film in the history of Slovak, Czech and Czechoslovak cinema. It was the first production from Central Europe, whether communist or democratic, to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Ida Kaminska was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her part. Slovakia was Communist dominated, but it was possible to make it as it was a period of political and cultural relaxation. The government allowed it to be released to the US, Finland, Sweden, West Germany, and Denmark, but would not allow its release in the Soviet bloc countries as evidently Communism was not shown as heroic enough in the story of local Fascist and Nazi rule in Slovakia in 1942.
The writer, Ladislav Grosman, was born and grew up in Slovakia. When he moved to Prague to become the editor in the Prague bureau of the Slovak newspaper Pravda, he spoke and wrote in Czech. His short story, “The Trap” from which he wrote the screenplay was published in Czech, but he wrote the screenplay entirely in Slovak dialogue.
Jan Kadar & Elmar Klos directed the film.It was filmed in the town of Sabinov in northeastern Slovakia. Kadar later defected to the US and became a professor of film direction at the American Film Institutes Center for Advanced Film Studies.
In the war years, Slovakia had its own fascist government leaders who worked out “compromises” with the Nazis. German “advisory missions” were appointed to all Slovak ministries. German troops were stationed in Slovakia beginning March 15,1939.There were 130,000 Jews in Slovakia in the 1930 census.The Nazi “advisors” radicalized Slovak policy toward the Jews, and in September 1941,the Slovak government enacted a “Jewish code”,making property expropriation legal.In 1942 the Slovak government reached an agreement with Germany on the deportation of Jews. The same year, when most of the deportations occurred, approximately 68,000 Slovak Jews were sent to German run concentration camps. Many Jews escaped deportation under a provision that allowed the Slovak government to exempt Jews whose services were considered an economic necessity.The Jews were deported from October to March, 1942,when the Slovakia government stopped it for a time.They stopped it when they learned that the deported Jews were being killed. They believed that the Jews were taken to labor camps to become workers for the Nazi’s. They said they needed their Jews for their economy. Later it came back again, and they were unable to stop it… the infiltration in the government of dedicated Nazis became too manifest and dominant, and the fear of danger to themselves if they protected Jews was real.
Also in 1942 ,Tiso,(the local leader) received rights of intervention in all affairs of state. The Germans concentrated their energy on war production. German banks acquired a controlling interest in all Slovak industries. With the aid of these investments and technical advice Slovakia had a economic boom, especially in the armaments industry , controlled by the German government. Slovakia served as a showcase for Hitler’s new order.
The Shop on Main Street is a Holocaust film,but doesn’t focus on the Jews, and the unspeakable horrors and suffering and persecutions that are so hard to relate, and to see in film.The focus is on the corruption of the uneducated, non political peasant life in middle Europe countries.It shows the seduction of them. Some resisted the seduction more than others, but all were corrupted. The Jews were killed, body and soul,and so was the soul and character of the peasant.Much has been written on the abandonment of the Jews, and those are serious, heart rendering charges,but perhaps in this film, there is a trickle that offers a comment to that discussion as we see the destruction of Tony,and his life as another part of what happened under Nazi rule.
The film opens with a bright sprightly cheerful march tune. The composers are listed as Liska and Janacek (who wrote beautiful music useing the folk melodies of Czechoslovakia). It is actually being played by a band in the park, but we don’t see that at first. What we see are gorgeous Cranes,feeding their young in their nest on a thatched roof, and then leaving to find more food….flying with a majestic wing spread in a choreography to the band music…they soar, then fly over a dark prison scene where prisoners are walking round in a circle, and then the birds and we move on into the city. It must be a Sunday as there are many many people walking in the street..a beautiful sunny day. The people promenaded down the main street all dressed up in nostalgic clothes from the early 40′s…girls, women, and very old women walking arm in arm in rayon print dresses that cover the knee, with high heels (circa 1942..not today’s heights), little white gloves, a fetching small hat with a tiny coquettish veil,and for the older, wealthy ladies enjoying the sun…a little dead fox wrapped around their neck with glittery beady eyes.Some of the women carry parasols. It is hot. Even though its hot, the men are wearing suits, and a hat. they tip their hat to the ladies that they know, and more than a few, kiss a ladies hand, or at least make a slight bow in recognition. It is charming.
At open bars, or restaurants, there are young men, not in suits, but still decently dressed who having a bit to drink are cheerily giving another a friendly push, or shove.Little girls in ankle sox and starched full skirts are skipping, and little boys are running after each other. There are young women wheeling prams…some horses and wagons in the street..not a lot. There is a very happy air…of seeing and being seen…all the delights of a small town on a Sunday where no one looks impoverished or struggling. It is a happy scene. The caption tells us it is 1942, the Germans are there, and recognize this country as Slovakia.
Now it is another day..a workday, and a man in work clothes, an apron,shirtsleeves,a vest is patiently waiting for a long train filled with soldiers to pass. He is pulling a small wagon, in which sits his dog, Essenc. The train finally passes; in the last car there is only one soldier on the roof playing a flute, and another musician, sitting on a blanket, rakishly wearing a top hat.Soldiers, wartime,but the men are smiling and cheering. The man waiting for the train to pass, is Tony, a carpenter by trade, and he is coming home.Home is a simple house, but not small, and there is his wife, Evelina calling him….where are you? Tony comes out of the outhouse where he is heard singing, and walks towards her. She is complaining that she rarely can find him, then complains that he is in the outhouse too long and what is he doing there?Has he delivered a trough to a customer? He brags that any trough he builds is never going to leak but she is only interested in the money he earned. He reluctantly hands over the money, and she complains that it is not enough. He says the woman also gave him a couple of pigeons. Well, she can’t pay the grocery bill with pigeons.She goes on to tell him about an enormous monument that is being built in the village square that is the talk of the town, and everyone is helping in the labor of it except Tony, her husband. He is not impressed , wants to know where they got the money for it. She goes on to say that his brother in law, Mark (her sisters husband who is a high ranking uniformed official in the Fascist party) is very involved, and doing so well, and it wouldn’t hurt Tony to at least give the Fascist greeting. he says he is not a puppet and he is obviously contemptuous of the society that she finds desirable.His contribution to the discussion is that he heard that British sunk tons of ships….or maybe it was that tons of British ships were sunk…he can’t quite be sure and he walks away from her nagging. He sings a little as he walks away…but soon stops, tells the dog how she orders him about, and what a nag she is.
He leisurely walks to the village center to see the monument being built. He and Essenc take off first winding through a herd of cattle coming home through the town from a day of grazing. He sings, reads aloud the graffiti on the rocks, sees a hopscotch, jumps the squares and eventually gets to the center of town.He greets people,all of whom know him well, and are pleasant..ready to visit.He passes some Jewish shops, warmly greets Mr. Blumenfeld and comes to the square where a large group of workers are building a frame… He greets his long time friend Imrich Kuchar, who is also observing the activity and is openly sarcastic about the uncompleted monument. It is now a giant wooden frame…like an enormous jungle gym. Some men are planing wood, others are pounding nails way up on the tower, He is greeted jovially…will he come to work with them, they want to know? He good naturedly observes…sees his brother in law coming towards him, and he turns away and ignores him.
Now at home, after such a long day he is soaking his sore feet in a tub of warm water in the kitchen as his wife continues her complaining.
Surprise! In walk Mark, his brother in law, with his wife Rosie, Evalinas sister…their arms laden with grocery bags which are filled with food and liquor.Tony is so stunned, he tries to rise, and knocks over the tub of water in which his feet are soaking. Evalina, full of scolding and complaint about what he has done, comes to mop up.
Mark and Rosie have come to dinner, and they have brought dinner in big grocery bags.
They sit at a dinner table now laden with a huge amount of food, and liquor. Mark is in a good mood, and sings, makes jokes…talks loud and long on how wonderful it is now now that they are rich. there is money…he says , let us drink like our fathers….no, he changes his mind. Can’ t do that. Our fathers were poor . We are rich..we have everything, and we have peace and freedom too. life couldn’t be better.
They are getting drunk. Tony is a bit angry. He reminds the brother in law that he cheated him,Tony, out of his inheritance when the father died. Mark changed the papers, and bribed the lawyer, and Tony was cheated..and his greatest anger is that he didn’t get the garden that he was entitled to. Mark says to forget the stupid garden..that is nothing now, when there are true riches to be had. Does Tony realize what Mark could have become in the Fascist party if Tony had joined and become a Fascist. He could have risen even higher in the ranks…but now they are suspicious of him,Mark, because his brother in law Tony did not join up.
But not to worry…everywhere you look there are are riches to be had, and he gives Tony a paper which tells him that he is now the owner of a shop…a shop that sells sewing supplies,formerly owned by one Rozalia Lautmannova Tony is the new Aryan owner.
Mark bets Tony he can’t drink like a man….10 glasses of liquor,one right after another…which Tony does…but becomes very drunk. He stands and weaves.Dance a Czardas…they clap, and Tony tries to dance the wild dance, but only dives for the bedroom as he is going to be very sick. Mark and Rosie are drunk too, and topple over carrying the table, the cloth, and all the remaining food all over them on the floor.And so the evening ends. But not before Rosie has put her expensive necklace on her sisters neck promising her great riches.
The next day, sober Tony dressed in an ill fitting suit comes into the button shop.There is an old woman sitting in the corner. She comes to the counter, and wants to know what he wants. She pleasantly says that her shop has everything one could want for a sewing project.She apologizes for being old which makes hearing him an issue. She is white haired and bent, but her face is youthfully alive,friendly,receptive.He conversationally asks if she knew another very old person he knew in the neighborhood who was so sick that he could eat only fish. Well, fish is good for the Sabbath, she says and starts to tell him her favorite recipe. He smiles, then catches himself, changes his tone, and in what he thinks is a business like manner tells her that he is the new owner of the shop and hands her the official papers. She glances at it, and says her eyes are so bad she can no longer read, but believes he is the tax collector. Her dead husband, Heinrich, told her even if she starved, a shops honor is important, and she must pay her taxes, and she wanders off to get big packets of tax receipts for proof.
He explains that as she is Jewish and he is Aryan, and the law states that only Aryans can own businesses and he now owns the shop. She doesn’t understand it at all.He is having trouble getting her to understand when his friend, Imrich Kuchar walks in.Assessing the situation, he sends Rozie to make some tea as she always does for him, and when alone, he tells Tony he is a fool.Tony defends himself that he didn’t do anything to get the shop..it was given to him by the largess of his brother in law.Imrich says he is a fool…the shop has nothing..he has won nothing…the Fascists have emptied the shops…and he opens boxes from the shelves which are all empty. She has nothing here, and makes nothing but she is so senile that she doesn’t understand it. She survives because the Jewish community which still has some money, gives her money every month that she thinks is from her shop which allows her to live simply.
Tony is angry and he is going to go to City Hall, and demand reimbursement. Imrich listens to his foolish ignorance and tells him they don’t care, and will show him the door.Tony starts to leave,and Imrich tells him not to go. He says an Aryan has to own it, and I would much rather you owned it than some lout who will abuse Rozie. He points to the picture of Heinrich on the wall. Imrich tells him that Heinrich could be standing there instead of him as the men fought together in WW1..crouching in a foxhole, and Heinrich took the bullet that killed him, but saved Imrich’s life. Imrich’s mother used to buy buttons in this shop, and he comes to bring Rozie a fish for the Sabbath every week.He said that Tony should manage the shop which would satisfy the authorities, and he, Imrich, a friend of the Jewish community, would go to the few Jews left conducting businesses..the barber and others, and tell them their “taxes” would have to be raised to pay Tony a wage every month, that he could show others he was making, and he could take care of the aging Rozie who was so vulnerable in these dreadful times. The money would be more than what he makes as a carpenter so no one will question.Tony agrees.
Rozie comes back in with the tea, and they settle down to pleasantries. Imrich explains that Tony is a relative of one Lilly which makes him sort of a nephew to Rozie.He has come to help her run the shop as it is so difficult for her because of her age.She is so happy to have him,thanks him profusely and tells him that she will treat him as if he were her own son.
Evalina, Tony’s wife is excited to see him when he returns home. What does the shop have? He must take a complete inventory so he knows what is his, as she doubtless has hidden things from him, and the Jews wealth wasn’t in their businesses but hidden under the floorboards, and he must break them up and find the money.She wants the keys to the shop now. He fumbles…he didn’t take the keys. He will get them tomorrow. This is enough to keep her complaining for the rest of the day but she is calmed when she is assured that they are now going to have a lot of money.
The next day, early in the morning, dressed in nice trousers,shirt & vest as befits a shop owner, Tony arrives at the shop to find it padlocked, and the shutters drawn. He is embarrassed he doesn’t have keys to his own shop, so assuring himself no one is paying attention, he lightly raps on the door. No answer…then louder and louder. The neighbors tell him that she is quite deaf and he must do this even louder. The street traffic becomes heavier, robed Priests from a nearby Church wander by, as do bearded, hatted Jews, all nodding a greeting to him. A neighbor shopkeeper is surveying the sidewalk activity, so Tony slips in behind his back into his shop and comes out the back door which is in an alley. He knocks on the alley door, but discovers is is unlocked and walks in to find Rozi in night dress, and her hair in a long braid down her back. She is pleasant but surprised to see him. what are you doing here? have you had breakfast. I overslept. I will make us breakfast. As he tells her impatiently,it is late and the shop needs to be opened, she pays him no heed, and with much enjoyment prepares a nice breakfast, and dresses herself in a very nice black dress.
He wanders around the room, examines the furniture, comments that it is good stuff but all broken, needs repair, shellacking, varnishing, painting..it is good quality but not fashionable, but he can fix it. He studies a few pieces, and selects that which he can fix nicely. As they sit at breakfast, he remembers the shop is still locked and once again says they must open up. No,she says, It is Shabbos, I never open the store on Shabbos. He can’t convince her so runs out of the apartment to find Imrich Kuchar to see what he can do. She thinks he has left to find the bathroom and runs after him with a key.
He finds Imrich, playing pool by himself in a pool hall which has a violin quartet outside playing wonderful folk dances. Imrich isn’t alarmed at all and writes a sign for him, “Closed for Inventory” which Tony hangs on the locked door, and goes back to finish his breakfast with Rozie who is now taking mens suits out of the wardrobe.He explains to her that he will bring his tools on Monday, and will fix the furniture which is going to be beautiful again. He will do this as he doesn’t see selling buttons as a suitable business for a man.
She gives him Heinrich’s suits explaining what does she need them for, and she thinks they will fit. He looks at the elegant fabric and the beautifully tailored suit…complete with bowler hat and a walking stick.He tries it on, puts on the hat, holds the walking stick and enjoys his reflection in the mirror. He says he looks like Charlie Chaplin…which he enjoys very much.
The next day, Sunday, we have a repeat of the first scene. The Cranes, leave their nest, and in a melodic waltzing choreography fly over the city center, where the Sunday promenade is taking place. Now though, we know some of the participants…along with the crowd, Tony, in his new outfit is walking with his uniformed brother in law, and Evalina and her sister Rosie are arm in arm,being greeted by many people, especially those in Fascist or Nazi uniform. Tony is smiling and tipping his hat to the ladies. Mark, sourly looking at him takes the hat and shows him how to properly tip it, and asks where did you get that suit?
Tony lies and says that he bought it from Imrich Kuchar. Mark says it was illegal for Imrich to sell it to him..if its from the Jews,it is just his without payment, and he will have Imrich arrested, as they are going to rid the town of not only Jews, but Jew lovers also.He points to a sign over a shop…see that Jewish sign…we are going to get rid of all Jewish signs..the Jews are going to go..there will be nothing here that will be Jewish.that is the goal they will achieve.
The next scene we see market day, in the small towns of Eastern Europe. Hundreds of women, many dressed in peasant dress with a kerchief tied under the chin,colorful embroidered blouses, and dirndl skirts, fight their way through packs of people who are loudly arguing and bargaining over the produce and other merchandise in the stalls.Evalina with a warrior like expression on her face, and armed with a large pocketbook which she uses as a weapon, forces her way through the crowd, picks up a fish, or a vegetable, and demands the price. On hearing it, she makes an ugly face, throws it back on the pile and moves on.
The button shop, now owned by an Aryan can be shopped again, and crowds of women fight each other to take a look at the sewing notions. Rozie is doing her best to service them. In the back apartment, Tony is smoking, whistling and singing as he is varnishing and sanding the furniture. A young Jewish boy,Danko who lives next door, calls him Uncle and is asking him polite questions about his furniture repair, and tools. Hearing the clamor from the front, Tony rushes in to help Rozie with the crowd. Rozie is trying to serve the large crowd, but she can’t possibly do that,and Tony tries to be important and helpful but he doesn’t know where anything is.Rozie is so busy getting the requested buttons..when Tony asks she just makes a quick gesture to a certain area…there, up, down. Someone wants cross stitch pattern. Oh, sure, Tony knowledgeably says we have Whoever Trusts In God Need Fear No Evil…and rozie nods her head and makes a gesture which Tony takes to mean the top shelf. He gets a ladder and climbs…still cannot reach, and getting a footing, reaches high. Evalina all smiles, opens the door to the shop.No Evalina…go away..not now. She is delighted to see the enormous crowd and reluctant to leave the excitement.Rozi glances at Tony, and with irritation says no, not there, there , and points to a place below. Tony loses his footings,and falls and buttons spill all over.Rozi rushes to pick up…says fool, fool, what have you done. Oh I have so many worries. oh, what worries I have..and the day proceeds.
The customers have left. the shop is empty and Tony is sweeping the floor and straightening up. He goes to the cash register which has a lot of money, and takes out a roll of bills as if to put it in his pocket, but hesitates..then hears Rozie calling him. He puts the money back in the register, and starts again to sweep with an angry expression on his face,waiting for the onslaught of criticism because of the general messes he made through the day, in his ignorance of the shop.She comes into the shop and smiles into his angry defensive face ready for the Evalina attack.
She says I cooked cauliflower. Would you like some? Come, it is delicious.He doesn’t immediately respond to her, so great is his surprise. She goes over to the cash register, opens the drawer, and with a big smile…takes a roll of bills and comes over to him,and gently offers to him..here is something for you for all your good work today. I don’t’ want you to go about with empty pockets. Won over by her loving nature, he comes to the table where he enjoys the delicious cauliflower. she is considering her good fortune in having Tony. She shows him pictures of her two daughters who live in America. She has a brother in America who has become very rich, and came to visit her. Upon learning that Heinrich did not return from the war, and she was a struggling widow trying to have enough money to raise the girls alone, he took the daughters to America where they would have a better future.
Tony goes on about the cauliflower, so she brings him another dish of it, even though he says no..and she takes a record and puts it on the gramophone. Tumala…tumala..tumala, the girls sit on the porch in their white dresses, she sings. She tells him Heinrich loved that song, and she is lost in humming and singing the refrain.
The movie is filled with East European folk music that is haunting in its beauty and melody, and seems to be almost a character in the story…which you will not forget . East European music , has a bittersweet melodic thread that is sensuous,lyrical,and resonates to body rhythms.It may be vibrant or exceedingly sad but it is unforgettable.
Tony sits there happily rich in the experience of being loved again without criticism or judgement. Danko, the little boy from next door, tells him that he wants to be his assistant.
Tony smiles at Rozie, and tells her he is going to take care of all the furniture. It is going to all be beautiful.
It is another day. In the square, the tower monument is almost complete. the men are chugging up a giant heavy logo….the double cross insignia of the Fascist party..they are doing Yo Heave Ho…in chant..reminiscent of the Volga Boatmen song to hoist this heavy thing to the top. A loudspeaker system is being installed much to the objection of Piti-baci (Uncle Piti) who is a small man with a huge voice. He is bemoaning the loss for the need of a town crier as announcements will now be made from the loudspeaker.He is offended at being replaced by a hollow pipe.
Angrily he decides to soothe himself by having a hair cut in the Jewish barber shop of Mr. Katz. Imrich Kuchar with lather all over his face, is in the chair and Uncle Piti takes a seat to wait. In comes Tony…not really looking for a haircut, but this is where he picks up his wages. He is hesitant, and uncomfortable, and doesn’t know quite what to do.
Katz tells Uncle Piti to come back tomorrow as he doesn’t have time today. Piti says he was there before Tony ..why doesn’t Tony have to come back? Well, because Tony has an appointment…Tony looks astounded at this and Uncle PIti becomes angry and yells at them that he knows what is going on…he knows everything, and he is going to report them, and not only that, he will get paid for reporting them and he stomps out.
Oy Vey, the Christian Imrich Kuchar laments..as the men look at one another. But in a minute Uncle Piti is back with a change of mood. He apologizes and says he will not report them…what good will it do? he will only get himself into trouble and into danger..nothing can be trusted anymore, and he leaves a more comfortable scene.
An old bearded Jew comes out of a curtained door. ..he is the funeral director of the Jews, but now he is the cashier. They thank Tony profusely for taking care of the poor widow Lautmann, and claim that it is indeed very heroic of Tony to do this…unfortunately they have not been able to find one so heroic that he wouldn’t need the money to help this problem of taking care of elderly Jews who can’t take care of themselves.
Tony returns home at the end of that day to Evalina, laden with gifts…sweets… from the bakery..food,wine. Evalina is so happy…all smiles and laughter. As they sit across from each other at the table, and put the whipped cream,powdered sugar dainties in their mouth…she starts to laugh and giggle…and then Tony laughs..and they laugh back and forth like this until they are both taken with laughing at their happy good fortune. Then Tony says close your eyes, which she does.He takes out a big bottle of cologne in an atomizer and sprays her face. She opens her eyes and laughs. He sprays and she gets up and runs around the table. He follows her spraying with the atomizer. They play this sexually suggestive game…and she tells him that she is making up their bed in the living room tonight, and he knows for the moment at least , he has a receptive wife again.
He smiles, but says…but first there is something i have to do.
He leaves, but only goes out to the back yard… he seems to be in deep reflection.He sits on a log and smokes a cigarette, thinking of what? He nudges his dog who lays on the ground, but no response from the sleepy animal here..so he looks around, and sees some rope coiled around the clothesline, which he carefully removes. Taking the rope,he tosses it, and sits to smoke and think some more. We know his thoughts have turned dark. If he were Dorian Gray, his portrait would have suffered some injury…and he is becoming aware of that. I think Tony’s idealized self is not holding up as well as he wants. His brother in law considered him a weak man because he couldn’t withstand the 10 drinks in a row, but that didn’t bother him.
This is a different strength or weakness he is coping with now..he is conflicted and he is unsure of himself, but he has lost something of his moral structure..and it is very serious to him.Besides that something else has happened to him.Between him and Rozi. He is nurtured by her loving nature to him. He has received that gift. Maybe it’s his dream of mother that has returned. But he is wearing her husbands suits. Is she a fantasized idealized love he never had? He is very uncomfortable.He is overcome with feelings.
Another day and in the village, Aandoric, a railroad employee and a neighbor of Tony’s stands looking at the monument, and then hurries off to find Tony in the back of the shop. He tells Tony he has something terrible to tell him.He has delivered many cattle cars at the railroad station according to his orders, and the station is full of soldiers, hanging around waiting. He knows that they have come for the Jews…the whole town is talking about it, and he came to tell Tony that he must warn Rozie. Tony runs into the shop.She is not there! Where is she? She never goes out the street. She never leaves the shop.
Where she is, is in the market place buying a lovely goose that is going to feed her and Tony and Imrich Kuchar for the coming week. She holds and strokes the goose, planning how she will prepare each part. She imagines the pleasure that Tony and Imrich will have.
Tony meets her in the street. She is upset that he has left the shop…the customers will steal the buttons. How can he have done that? He explains the danger to her..and she says do I know what you are talking about? You shouldn’t have left the shop.
He realizes the futility of explaining to her.
As he walks along he sees barbed wire around Kuchars house and a crowd looking through it at guards taking things out of the house. There is a search for him. The crowd has mixed opinions…they don’t feel sorry for him..they wouldn’t like to be in his shoes…ask Tony..Tony has been a friend of his, but not wise to be that now.
Tony goes over to the barber, Katz. Uncle Balco the bandleader, is there in his work apron, very upset,telling them that he has received a notice that on Sunday he is to have his band in military uniform playing in the square very sprightly good march tunes, celebrating with much fanfare the departure of the Jews.He doesn’t want to do this, but he is frightened to not do it, so he will.
Katz says, Uncle Piti, the town crier shouldn’t lament that he lost his job. He now has a new one. He calls out the name cards of the Jews to be sure that every one gets on the train. Katz wishes he were so lucky. He received an order from Tony’s brother in law. His shop has been confiscated, and he is ordered to depart on the trains. He is bitter…for 40 years he has cut their hair…a ton of hair he has cut, and now he is being banished like cattle, brandied, and put upon a cattle car.
Tony stares at the order in his hand.He dully asks Katz, are you really going?
No, I’m packing for a picnic. want to join me? Or I’ll join Mrs.Lautmannova, and the two of us will fight them. Tony asks if there will be a Wednesday wages payment for him. No, our business arrangement is over.Kkatz cooly continues, I will pray for you that the good Lord will send you customers so you can make up your losses. Take care of yourself.
Tony walks out on the street and watches a military unit marching along while singing a patriotic song. We are Slavs, born and bred..we will fight to the death till the Slovaks own their country.The streets are emptying except for many uniformed guards and military. The boy Danko is watching, and a guard sends him home.
We see Rozi singing, and preparing her Sabbath dinner. Tony runs to find Uncle Pito who is delivering the cards to the people who are to board the trains. Tony wants the one for Mrs. Lautmann, but Uncle Pito doesn’t have it. He says shall I go ask them for it?
Tony looks at him…you fool!
Well, what do you want me to do?, uncle Pito says…make pickles out of her?..
Tony says don’t say a thing to her…not a word, and he leaves for home.On the way he stops to see a truck unload a badly beaten up man,now tied up, but really unable to stand or walk. It is Imrich Kuchar. They throw him off the truck and put a sign around his neck which reads, I am a Jew lover. He stares at Tony, and tony stares at him…then they drag him into the military station.
When he gets home, he finds Evalina very mad that he has not brought any money. She starts to rant at him that she has told him to find the gold that is hidden in the floor, and that he is a fool because the Jews have so much money and now that they are all leaving everyone will be finding it, and he has had an opportunity to get it but he squandered it..she will go and look herself. Tony approaches her, and hits her hard. She is stunned. He hits her again and again , advancing on her. He is out of his mind. She is screaming and crying….Tony, Tony don’t do it. I won’t say anything. I will do anything you want. He leaves the house and goes to the pool hall. He sits at a table with Uncle Pito..the waiter wants the order and Tony tells him to bring the whole bottle. The people in pool hall are exceedingly happy, jovial and hysterically determined to have fun. There is an orchestra playing while individual violinists walk around playing the czardos..as the men start to dance…there is pinching, laughing, flirting with the waitresses…good natured party hysteria…most are more than half drunk.
We see Mrs. Lautmannova in a nice black dress, blessing the Sabbath candles, hands over eyes, Amen, and she sits to eat a bit of her goose..which is served prettily on a white clothed table in Shabbas finery…china & goblets.
Back at the riotous pool hall, the commander, holding a mike, is telling people that they will rid the town of all Jews, Slovakia will belong to them, they will be victorious. Imrich Kuchar is caught, and will be shot like a dog…no , maybe hanged is better, and all laugh. He promises such punishment to any Jew lover. The Slavs are reclaiming their land.The dancing , music, singing get more and more loud, as does the drunkenness. The commander says come with me …you will see something never before seen. I promise you…something you will have never seen.They all follow him to the village square. There is the massive triangular tower which is their monument, atop which sits a massive double cross. They light it up….it is entirely outlined in bright brilliant lightbulbs. It lights up the town. There is music heard in the distance…soldiers singing…and now these musicians start to play and the men start to dance in a frenzy…laughter, dancing more and more and more.
Tony leaves and goes to the apartment where Rozi is asleep in her bed in a white nightgown and ruffled cap She is startled to see him.He tells her that he has come to warn her. They will take her away, and she must hide. She looks at him, and tells him that he is drunk and of course she will hide him. He tries to tell her the mistake she has made but she has made up her mind. He goes back to peer out the front window in the shop and she comes in with bedding. She tells him that she will make up a nice bed for him.There is nothing to worry about . People have quarrels all of the time . He will get a nights sleep. and go home in the morning when it will look all better. He tries again, and she says…did I ask you what happened? No..you don’t have to explain to me. its all right. go to sleep and she disappears.He is totally frustrated,but also very exhausted. He lies on the bed,and falls asleep into a deep dream.
He is wearing the beautiful suit,bowler hat & walking stick,and Rozi is much younger….older than him but not by generations..a maturity but she is quite lovely looking and wearing a beautiful dress in the style of the late 1800′s. They are out walking on the promenade, greeting and being greeted,and there is music in the background. It is a peaceful beautiful scene.She tells him that a peaceful heart is a gift from God and it was all a bad dream.She continues that we all know the past but none know the future. He confesses to her that the most frightening of all was the wooden structure, the monument, the tower of Babel. She repeats it was a bad dream and they waltz off together.
So we know that she has come to mean many things to him…a mother, a wife, a lover,a companion.
He is awakened by the loud speaker system in the square which someone is using to give orders to the Jews who are sitting on the ground with all their belongings.They are told to be silent,and to hold out their registration cards.The voice continues to say they, the Slovaks are kind,and will not hurt the Jews, but laws must be obeyed. Who ever is found with knives or any sharp instruments,will be punished on the spot.
Jews, listen to me, the voice continues. We are kind. We are not going to hurt you. You are not going far away. There is a war going on. You are going to work in camps for the war effort. The old people will be sent to homes.This is the truth.
Rozi comes into the shop with a tray with breakfast and tells him to eat his breakfast,and then he can go home and all will be fine.He has made no progress with her at all.When she goes back into the apartment,he says, Jesus, I have to open the shop. He does.She comes out again, and is furious with him that he opened the shop on Shabbos..which she never has done. She is very angry with him..but he gets her back in the apartment where she sits and reads her Bible.
He spends the day drinking the entire day and mumbling what he can do…he reasons that it is either her or him, gets a suitcase, and comes in the apartment to pack her things. It has been heart rendering for him to hear the names of his friends called up and see them meekly leave…watch a truck pull up and be loaded with all the luggage. They call Katz…Tony mutters what did he ever do to you? He shaved your terrible faces for 40 years. He is becoming exceedingly drunk and unreasonable.
When he comes with a suitcase and starts to pack her things, she gets even angrier..at his drunkenness, at his opening the shop on the Sabbath, and to now pack her things. She throws it to the floor…and comes out and looks out the window.She sees her friends all sitting on the grass…she can’t comprehend what is happening, and she talks to herself in Yiddish…what is happening..how can she make sense of this?
Tony is becoming wilder and more irrational and doesn’t know what to do.
She says Pogrom! She has decided that is the explanation for what she is seeing and she runs to the back to her bedroom and locks herself in there.Tony runs after her,tries the various doors, and knows she is locked in the bedroom.He starts yelling insanely at her that he knows that she can hear him. She is just pretending. She is not deaf at all he screams. She is an old hag,and an impostor, and she is just doing this so that after the war she can tell everyone what a bad Aryan manager he was for her. She wants to throw a bad light on him. He knows that is what she is up to. He yells at her, damn you, open up. But she does not. He goes back and looks out the window. All is deathly quiet. The trucks are rolling away with the Jews sitting quietly crying in the backs of them,and the crowd silently walks away.It is a terrible scene to him, and he is filled with remorse. He goes back and begs her forgiveness…he didn’t mean…he mutters,I didn’t want,I didn’t want.He can’t finish a sentence. She comes out and goes to look out the window,but he sees his brother in law approaching, and tersely tells her that she must hide. She shields herself from him with a stick and runs..he runs after her, opens a door and shoves her in and locks the door. Then he goes to the front window. his brother in law is only looking at his reflection in a mirror that he can see from the outside…whistles at his snappy appearance and walks off.
Tony unlocks the door, to tell her that it is all right to come out. It is quiet and he looks. She fell and is dead.He is crazy with the reality of what happened, and the fantasy in his head. He looks all around the rooms…notices a picture on the wall of her that he seemingly had not noticed before. It is Rozi at the age, and in the dress that she was in, in his dream the night before. his mind had absorbed a picture he had not seen. He looks outside. A kind neighbor welcomes Danko home as he was gone all day, and his hysterical mother had to leave without him. He lets out the dog. He goes to a cabinet and gets a length of rope with which to hang himself, and we see a chair fall to the ground. then in misty grays, he dressed in Heinrichs clothes, and she like the portrait on the wall dance out to a smiling band playing a waltz…they dance down the road, and the movie is over.
Killing himself out of his guilt confirms an oedipal role that his relationship with Rozi contained.That is one level of tragedy..but the same story depicted tragedy on every level ..what happened to the Jews..what happened to the Slovaks..what happened to Europe…what happened to the soul of one man.Each story was a tragedy.