While I was watching the film again to count Ida’s screentime, I definitely found even more enjoyable elements to it. And that’s not surprising, because The Shop on Main Street is a well made, important film: the direction seemed even more precise the second time around and the original score sounds distinctive and is well used.
I have previously expressed my incapacity to understand 1966’s Best Actress line-up and how did they come up with this list. While in Vanessa’s case the film had exposure, was in the English-language, but I found the performance to be really underwhelming, in Ida Kaminska’s case it’s completely the opposite. While the film had won Best Foreign-Language film the year before, I don’t see how they could possibly remember a year later to put on their ballot an unknown actress from a Czechoslovakian film, delivering an unusual (but true: effective) performance. The Globes surely had something to do with it.
Ida plays Rozalie Lautmann, the Jewish owner of a confections shop, a quite senile old woman living in a small Slovakian town at the beginning of WWII. When Tono, a simple minded but good-natured man is sent to take over the shop, in the process of Aryanization, he is unable to give the news to this nice old lady, so he creates a bit of a different reality for her, trying to protect her, and the two become friends. But when the Fascist authorities begin sending the Jewish people to labour camps, Tono has a dilemma about what to do with Mrs. Lautmann, who is completely unaware of what’s happening around her.
While trying to form an opinion on Ida’s performance, I became quite curious about something. You see: we have a 60-something year old actress playing a 78 year old woman; Ida Kaminska, a theatre actress, had made just a handful of films in her career and it’s impossible to find online any kind of interview with her or footage other than this film. That being said: me not seeing the actress outside this performance makes me wonder how was she in real life, just so that I weight in on how much acting is she doing for this part.
It sounds silly, I know. Of course she’s acting, but I want to know how different the role was from her real life persona (remember all those jolly, happy interviews with Gabourey Sidibe that made her performance in Precious look even better because the girl was so different from the character? That’s what I mean). But moving on to the actual performance: I liked it and found it refreshing.
Because there’s something about a natural, character performance that always looks new to me, so different than what I’m usually seeing. Some might think that her performance in the more senile scenes in the beginning is a bit pushed, but I believed and, myself being from that part of Europe, found it completely believable and perfectly balanced.
I felt like I knew this old woman and Ida creates the character in such a way that it easily inspires kindness and good nature and makes it the most likeable character of the film. As we can easily anticipate that something bad will happen, I felt for her and it’s to Ida’s credit that she grabs the audience's attention even from her first scene (which comes half an hour into the film) and makes us care and anxiously wait for the verdict of the story.
While the dramatic scenes towards the end, when Mrs. Lautmann starts realizing what’s actually happening, can be seen by many as the most powerful part of the performance (and it is very well played: the scene where she’s looking through the window of the shop at the Jewish people lined-up, ready to be moved, is emotionally charged), I think I prefer her joyful side which makes the character more memorable.
The scene where she’s buying the goose and then carrying it in her purse is terribly funny and how could I not mention her musical moment, as she’s relieving the past listening to her husband’s favorite song and singing along. I smiled all throughout these scenes and I was charmed by her and wanted to see more from the character.
I honestly fell in love with the performance while writing about it now, because I am reliving all the great scenes from the film. At less than 25% of the film, it can be considered a supporting performance and I understand why it’s not for everyone’s taste. But I was captivated by it and I could notice the experience in her acting and how efficiently it’s being used: she’s great at showing all the gestures of a very old woman, making for a natural performance that’s both funny, endearing and very dramatic. I’ll allow myself this guilty pleasure of a .