Butikken på hovedgaden
It has been
a long while since my last post. Over the past month I have been busy
relocating back to Denmark after six years in Israel. My family and I have now
moved into a not so big, but very nice apartment in Copenhagen and although it
is largely empty, most of our possessions are taking a pleasant cruise on the
Atlantic in a container, I am slowly starting to watch movies again.
movie in my new home is the Czechoslovakian movie “The Shop on Main Street” (Obchod
na korze). A movie I knew absolutely nothing about, but which appears to be
incredibly famous. It won “Best Foreign Language movie” in 1965 and is mentioned
as being the most famous movie to come out of Czechoslovakia. Or certainly out
It is a low-key
movie about a humble carpenter, Tono (Jozef Kroner), in a small Slovakian town
in 1942. Tono lives a quiet life, happy making furniture or going around with
his dog. The main problem in his life is that he is being pestered by his wife
Evelina (Hana Slivková), who wants more in life, particularly money, status and
the lifestyle of her sister Ruzena (Elena Pappová-Zvaríková), the wife of the
town commandant Markus (František Zvarík). Markus’ position in the SS
equivalent Hlinka guard makes him a powerful and wealthy man and Tono hates him
with a vengeance.
As part of
the prosecution of the Jews in town, all their businesses are assigned an “Aryan
controller” and Markus is assigning Tono as Aryan controller of a button shop
belonging to the elderly Mrs. Lautman (Ida Kamińska). While Evelina considers
this a gold mine, Tono is more reluctant and he soon finds that Mrs. Lautman is
a sweet old lady, half deaf and somewhat senile, who has little idea about what
is going on. The shop is a scam to keep her happy while in reality she is
supported by the Jewish community. Tono finds that he likes her and his role of
taking care of her so instead of plundering her shop he helps her and fixes her
comes to a sudden end when the Jews are rounded up and sent to the
extermination camps and Tono finds himself in a pinch: Help the old lady and be
hunted as a Jew-lover or send her to her death.
This is a holocaust
movie, but a different kind than the usual ones. There are no big numbers here,
instead we meet regular folks caught in the horrors of the genocide. Tono is an
every-guy, who wants to stay out of politics, but are forced to take a stand.
An impossible stand as it turns out. He can be an accomplice to the genocide or
he can try to follow his conscience at the cost of his own life. For a hero
this may sound like an easy choice, but for a regular dude this is not easy at
all. He just wants to go away, be somewhere else, but he cannot. As such he
represents the typical central European population during the war.
personal touch also makes the movie more moving and heartbreaking than the
typical holocaust movie. I understand the people, they are real people, even
the bad ones, and the monumental disaster becomes personal. Mrs. Lautman does
not deserve to die. The boy Danko does not deserve to die and as Mr. Katz, the
barber, says, “When the authorities prosecute the innocent then it is the end
of it”. The rounding up of the Jews is in very real terms the Armageddon, the
collapse of the normal world.
It is this particular
angle that makes “The Shop on Main Street” stand out. The normal, cozy world of
real people that collides with the lowest of human evilness. Everything in the
cinematography supports this: The town setting, the low-key home of Tono, the
casual life they lead and the adorable Mrs. Lautman. The music has folk
elements that are replaced by an alarming violin. The lighting changes from
sun-bathed pleasantness to stark black and white desolation.
I was very
pleased with this movie, it is a great and moving film to watch, but also
heartbreaking as an effective Holocaust movie is supposed to be. This is not my
favorite genre and less so as I get older, but this is definitely one to see
and not just for its message. Highly recommended.
1964 is now
officially over for me and my movie calendar says 1965. It is also about a week
until I am moving back to Denmark with my family. Busy days!
of 1965 is Andy Warhol’s “Vinyl”.
If you are
into sadomasochistic gay sex this is likely something for you. Sadly,
sadomasochistic gay sex is not my thing and that leaves… very little.
supposed to be a pre-Kubrick take on “A Clockwork Orange”, but you could have
fooled me. I did not perceive any story at all. What we do get is a one-hour
movie consisting of two camera positions. The first, lasting about 80% of the
movie has a sadomasochistic séance in the background (not so much sex though,
they a mostly just torturing the poor fellow) while in the foreground a dude
called JD is first making an obscure speech, then is being the subject of
another sadomasochistic séance led by a dude called The Doctor. Again not so
much sex, mostly torture, humiliation and sexual undertones. All the while a
girl is sitting on the right side of the picture doing… nothing. To call her an
observer is too gracious. She is just there, looking as if she is wondering why
she is there at all.
dialogue, but it is a declamatory dialogue that makes little sense and I tuned
it out completely. I do not remember a single line.
point the camera zoom in on JD, but nothing else changes.
music and it is actually good music. The only redeeming feature of the movie,
but exactly what the role of this music is I do not know. It is just there.
exhibitions Warhol is a big name and his paintings and installations are both
interesting and influential, but if “Vinyl” is typical for his movie production
then I would say that they miss the mark. I could do without.
there are no free-flying dicks in “Vinyl”, but that seems merely a coincidence.
Otherwise this movie follows pretty well the path setup by the List editors for
underground gay movies. I get that there must be something for the LGBT
community and that Warhol is a pretty big name, but for crying out loud, there
must be something better than this.
movie of 1964 is the Japanese movie “Onibaba” and again Japanese cinema is bent
on impressing me. “Onibaba” is one of the best movies in 1964.
say I entirely understand the movie, there are layers here that are inaccessible
for me, but even at face value this movie is awesome.
distant Japanese past the country is engulfed in a lengthy civil war. That
happened a few times in Japanese history, but the circumstances are not so
important. In this war an older woman (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter in law,
the younger woman (Jitsuko Yoshimura) are hiding out in a large field of tall
and dense susuki grass. Their livelihood is to trap and kill soldiers who seek
refuge or get lost in the field. They strip the dead soldiers of armor and
weapons and sell then to a shady dealer for basic foodstuff. The two women are
never named, but they are crafty women, bent on survival and doing a good job
at that in a difficult time.
their neighbor Hachi (Kei Satō) returns. He left some time ago with the son and
husband of the two women and were drafted into the war. Eventually they were
assaulted by farmers who had the audacity to defend their possessions from plundering
soldiers and the younger woman’s husband was killed. Hachi made it home alone.
not a great guy. Not objectively. Pretty disgusting actually. The older woman
hates his guts for coming home without her son, but the younger woman is
attracted to him because he is… well… a man.
Soon they are forming a very sexual relationship behind the back of the
fuming older woman.
night the older woman finds a way to scare her daughter in law into compliance
when she finds a demonic mask. Only, this is not just a mask. It is a truly
There is a
lot to love about this movie. Kaneto Shindo, the director, had his own
production company, so he could ignore all the usual strictures on Japanese
movies and film the story in a raw, brutal and direct style that gives the film
an impact outside the usual scale for the period. The war is brutal, killing is
easy and lives are cheap. The callousness with which human lives are dispensed
with for simply livelihood is shocking, but also very convincing. In a very cold
place we can understand the simple logic behind the actions of these two women.
goes for the raw sexuality between Hachi and the younger woman. There is not so
much to explain: there is a woman and man, they have a sexual craving and they
act on it. Is it good or bad? The older woman is against it, but not so much
from a moral point of view, but because she hates his guts and wants to keep
the girl for herself. To her, Hachi is a rival. We see everything, not because
we are Peeping Toms, but because the style is raw and blunt.
is the horror element. Life in the susuki grass field is pretty horrific, but
the demonic mask adds another element. It gets stuck to face of the wearer and
transforms the face to the horrific deformities suffered by nuclear attack
victims. I am not entirely sure of the meaning of this. Could it be that the
demonic mask unveils the monster beneath? Or that beneath demonic behavior and
faces are vulnerable and scarred human beings? Not sure, but regardless the
effect of the mask is terrifying.
is awesome as the older woman and she would have been my suggestion for a Best
Actress in 1964. If for no other reason, watch this movie for her.
recommended, one of the best movies of 1964, and that concludes 1964 for me.