An excerpt from the booklet essay by Peter Hames

Adapted from Ladislav Grosman’s short story The Trap (Past, 1962), The Shop on the High Street is set in a small town in wartime Slovakia during the period of the so-called ‘independent state’. However, before discussing the film, it’s important to consider the political context.

The demand for Slovak autonomy within Czechoslovakia derived from nationalist agitation in the 1930s, led in particular by the People’s Party headed by the Catholic priest Andrej Hlinka. He died in August 1938 and was replaced by Jozef Tiso, who was to become prime minister, and subsequently ‘Leader’ of the independent state. Discussions on Slovak autonomy took place in the summer of 1938 but it was the Munich agreement (29th September) ceding the Sudetenland to Germany that triggered a Slovak declaration of autonomy (6th October). This was accepted by the Czechoslovak government. Slovakia’s frontiers were redefined by the Vienna award (2nd November), in which Slovak territory was ceded to Hungary and Poland. The Nazis urged Slovakia to seek full independence under German protection, indicating that the alternative was partition between Germany, Poland and Hungary. Independence was declared the day before German troops entered the Czech lands on 15th March 1939.

A right wing section of the People’s Party led by Vojtech Tuka established links with the Nazis and promoted anti-Semitic propaganda. Tuka, who spent the years 1928-38 in jail, formed the paramilitary group the Hlinka Guard the year of his release. He replaced Tiso as prime minister of the Slovak state in 1939. In 1941, the government issued a Jewish code, described by Ivan Kamenec as ‘…one of the cruellest anti-Semitic laws in the modern history of Europe’ (Kamenec, 2011: 188).  Deportation to Nazi camps began in March 1942.  It was the Hlinka Guard who supervised the process.

It is against this background that the film is set – the year 1942. An old deaf Jewish woman, Rozália Lautmann (Ida Kamińska), who owns a small shop selling buttons and assorted haberdashery, is allocated an ‘Aryan controller’, Tóno Brtko (Jozef Kroner) under the anti-Jewish laws. Tóno, however, is a well-meaning carpenter whose only wish is to survive, stay out of trouble, and get on with his neighbours.

The opening scene cleverly juxtaposes nesting storks on the rooftops together with music from the town’s brass band. Taking a stork’s eye view, the camera moves to the image of prisoners exercising in a yard (symbol of a repressive state) to the traditional Sunday promenade, where gentlemen accompany their wives and families, all sections of the community engage with each other, and social niceties are exchanged. A painter records the scene. In a later promenade, Tóno appears alongside Kolkocký dressed in his Chaplin suit. As people pay tribute to authority, Kroner does a perfect Chaplin impersonation, playing with his bowler hat and umbrella in a state of perpetual uncertainty and confusion. The promenade is also mirrored by Tóno’s regular walks along the high street, as we are introduced to acquaintances who warn him about Fascist dangers, meet members of the Jewish community, and see the construction of the ‘Tower of Victory’. Throughout there is a strong sense of the action taking place within a community.


The film’s unique qualities lie in its rejection of the most obvious stereotypes - the members of the small community remain human and are known to each other regardless of their racial and political connection. Its sense of place and character - it was shot in the Eastern Slovak town of Sabinov - provide an ideal example of how the cancer of ‘everyday Fascism’ develops and evolves. Kadár revealingly said in an interview with Antonín Liehm that the wider historical perspective is revealed in ‘one drop of water’. As Kenneth Tynan wrote: ‘The grand theme - as of all good modern drama - can be simply stated: How much of a man belongs to authority and how much to himself?  At what point must the individual say “No”?’

Peter Hames' complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Czechoslovakia, 1965
Length / Feature: 125 minutes
Length / Special feature:
40 minutes
DVD: 2.0 Dual Mono
Blu-Ray: 2.0 Dual Mono LPCM (48k/24-bit)
Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Language: Slovak, Yiddish.

DVD: PAL / DVD9 / Region 0
Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps / Region ABC
DVD: £12.99
Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 8 Aug 2016


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