Voted as one of the greatest works of Czechoslovakian cinema by critics at the end of the last century, The Shop on the High Street was one of the first films to tackle the Holocaust. Directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, the Slovakian film covers an area of World War II history not widely known in the West. Slovakia was technically an independent state but maintained strong ties to the Nazi regime until eventually occupied. Until then, the Hinka Guard undertook a similar role as the SS. In The Shop on the High Street, Tono is torn between morality and survival.
Tono (Jozef Kroner) is a carpenter in a small Slovakian town who tries to keep himself to himself. This changes when his brother-in-law, who is the Nazi representative in the town, appoints him as the ‘Aryan Controller’ of a button shop owned by an elderly Jewish woman (Ida Kaminska). He tries to explain this to her, but she thinks he’s come to work as her assistant. As a bond grows between the couple Tono increasingly tries to wrestle with his conscience.
The Shop on the High Street won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1966. In a quirk of the Oscar system, Ida Kaminska was also nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1967. The directors tackle the subject of the Holocaust from a unique angle, and whilst the film starts out quite light-heartedly it becomes perceptively darker as it progresses. The Shop on the High Street is a slow-paced and unusual film which makes it’s mark without ever preaching.
The Shop on the High Street is released on DVD by Second Run today.