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Slovakia during WW2. Tono lives a poor life, but the authorities offer him to take over the Jewish widow Lautman's little shop for sewing material. She is old and confused and thinks that he is only looking for employment and hires him. The odd couple begin to like each other. But some time later the authorities decide that the Jews must leave the city. What should he do with the old lady? Written by
Film brilliantly combines comedy and tragedy in tale of moralresponsibility.
This movie is one of my all-time favorites. It depicts a lazy, self-interested "everyman" caught up in a personal struggle of good and evil. The directors/writers question the moral responsibility of genocide, as smalltown Czechs under Nazi domination respond to their Jewish neighbors. Jews are no longer allowed to own shops, so their businesses' control and ultimate ownership is turned over to Christians -- namely, Nazi sympathizers. One such Christian, brother-in-law of a high-ranking official, is given a button shop, owned by a deaf, elderly Jewish woman, who is not even aware that there is a war going on. Due to her deafness, she has the innocence of a child. The Christian overseer finds that the shop makes no money whatsover, but also learns that the Jewish community supports the old woman and will pay him a salary to watch over her. What develops is a platonic love story between the two, hilariously funny due to the old woman's inability to comprehend the impending doom around her, and her assistant's struggle to shield her from harm while concerned with self-preservation. The movie works on numerous levels -- as a love story, including dreamlike fantasy elements of a bygone world where Nazi horrors don't exist; and as a tale of ultimate moral responsibility. It is a story of basically good people, who say nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, and do nothing when genocide threatens their neighbors, and who thus enable genocide to occur. The brilliant combination of hysterically funny scenes set against a background of impending mass murder brings this film to a life that is lacking in most humorless holocaust-oriented films. The laughter through tears produces an ultimate impact that is emotionally devastating. This film justly received an Oscar for Best Foreign Film when it was released. It was produced during a brief high point of the Czech film industry, prior to Russia's reconquering of the country and squelching any artistic freedom. All the performers are exceptional, particularly the two leads. (After the Russian takeover, actress Ida Kaminski emigrated to New York and attempted to revive the Yiddish Theatre.)
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