Friday, March 2, 2007

The Shop on Main Street, Czechoslovakia, 1966

Tony Brtko, the protagonist in this film, is just an ordinary man simply trying to improve his living conditions amid WWII. The story unfolds in a small town of Czechoslovakia just before the start of the Holocaust. As a fascist ethnic nationalism takes hold, the Jews in the town who own businesses are stripped of their ownership and transferred to various appointed “Aryan” overseers. Tony happens to become one of these overseers through his brother-in-law who gives him a mandate to overtake the little sewing shop of Rozalie Lautmann, an elderly widow. Mrs. Lautmann is confused and does not quite understand what is happening around her and thinks that Tony is simply there to look for employment and to be her assistant. The two begin to like each other and a kind of maternal relationship forms.

Some time later a declaration made by fascist authorities forces the deportation of all the Jews in the town and severely punishes those who help them. Tony becomes caught in the dilemma of protecting both himself and Mrs. Lautmann. When authorities are calling for all the names of the Jews to be gathered in the town square, Tony panics and become drunk. He fells incompetent to intercept and occupies every possible angle of the situation, as he pushes and pulls Mrs. Lautmann in and out of safety until she dies from trauma. Consumed with guilt, Tony then kills himself.

The film shows how fear allowed such atrocities as genocide to happen. Tony fails to intercept because of his fear and dies regardless. However, he is not entirely guilty as the everyman character because there is not much he can do about the situation at the moment. It is already too late because almost everyone has been brainwashed. What led people to actively collaborate or passively permit a fascist regime and genocide? The film places the most guilt on the people who are casual about the situation, if not proud of it. The atrocities happened as a gradual process because few people could imagine how far things would go.


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