The Shop on Main Street

Watched this film last night. Normally I dislike holocaust films. It is kind of a aesthetic cop-out to portray historically-categorical tragedy. After history is accounted for, what else is there to say? Imagine if "Oedipus Rex" films were a genre. Most artists find it exceedingly difficult to portray anything new about such a strident message. In the same way that after the intial shock of The Triumph of the Will fades into just-another-political-film in our modern eyes, most anti-Fascist films stick close to the hardline: many died, and brutally, for no good reason. To go further is a risk, if it is even conceivable, in the face of the monolithic tragedy one is forced by history to portray. Without the ending we all know is coming, Schindler's List or The Diary of Ann Frank have very little artistry to them.

But The Shop on Main Street is different. It is a beautiful film, and sought a different take, without downplaying the tragedy. It finds something else to say, while also maintaining the categorical message. There was no violence (save the very end) depicted throughout the movie: no typical Kristalnacht-montages, no bodies, no trains, no ashes. No weak and pitiful Jews tossed into the streets, no children giving the Fascist salute. Furthermore, there was no discussion about it, either. No rousing speeches, no bureaucratic dictates, and very little symbolism. In the beautiful dialogue, filled with mis-communications and one-sided conversations, nobody says anything about Jews, Arayanism, Fascism, or even Hitler. There is a greedy wife, an obnoxious brother-in-law, a friendly fisherman, a wistful carpenter, and a absent-minded widow. They play their roles beautifully, no different than these sorts of characters at any other time in history. The Fascism, the totalitarianism, and the murderous hate almost seem like an accident--like something somebody heard about elsewhere, and did not really understand. Like history, to us in the present day. A strange chapter, which we never forget, but don't really understand. When Brtko tries to explain that he is taking over the widow's button shop, she either does not hear, or does not understand. The awkwardness of the "business" they cannot discuss, and his failure to promenade his role as "Arisator" correctly in the Slovak town to either his wife or the other citizens, take an interesting parallel to Brtko's over-exposed dream sequences, when he imagines himself and the widow happily together, without the fear and doubt he experiences in life.

The bizarre horror of a waltz is really the most important lesson of the holocaust, in my opinion. Humans are violent, malevolent, and ghastly to each other every day. But this is reality. The historical tragedy is that we continue to dance, awkwardly and though we may not want to, as if nothing is wrong, as if in a dream.

Here's an example of one of the beautiful moments, which will probably not make sense out of context. My favorite scene, when Britko first shows up at the button shop, wasn't available in an internet-ready clip.

ps. Also, it is a film from the era in which Oscar's were awarded to quality work, not just big films.

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