Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ida Kaminska in The Shop on the Main Street

Ida Kaminska received her only Oscar nomination for playing Rozalie Lautmannová, an old Jewish shopkeeper during the Holocaust in Ján Kádár's movie, The Shop on the Main Street. It's quite amazing that a Ukranian-born stage actress in a Czechoslovakian movie received an Oscar nomination and this is why I love 1966. There was not one, but two foreign-language performances nominated, two English and only one American. Of course, Taylor was winning, but it's a nice achievement of Kaminska anyhow.

The Shop on the Main Street is most definitely the best movie about the Holocaust (along with The Pianist). It really shows the reactions and feelings of everyone and it's free of the sentimentality of Schindler's List (which is terrific too, of course). The Best Foreign Language Film Oscar was more than deserved, it's quite probably one of my favorite winners of the category. Jozef Króner gives a great and very natural performance as Tono, who's the real lead of the movie. It's mostly about him and his feelings.

Therefore, Ida Kaminska is borderline supporting. It's one of those cases, where it's just not obvious where she belongs. The definition of a leading role is (no matter what) that the character should be crucial to the storyline and without that character, the movie would not be the same. Well, that's the role of Rozalie Lautmannová. The screentime is working against her unfortunately, she just doesn't have the opportunity to shine as much as she could have. She's too substantial to be supporting, but not enough for leading.

However, this doesn't mean that she gives a weak performance. Oh no. Kaminska, who was a veteran stage actress, really nailed the character of Mrs. Lautmann, who's nearly deaf and blind, old and dumb. Kaminska showed the dementia of this woman so thrillingly that it's almost heartbreaking just to look at her. The emptiness of her smile just makes you sad and shows the terrible state of this person. However, she can only stick to her memories, traditions and religion. She lives in a word which has disappeared, but which is very alive to her. She has considerable pride, she cares about what people are saying about her. She always furious when Tono wants to open the shop on Saturday. She says "what are they going to think about me?".

It's also a very important factor that Kaminska gets to work with some terrific material. The role of Mrs. Lautmann is an excellent one for any elderly actress. She immediately wins the sympathy of the viewer as Mrs. Lautmann is a very likeable character. Or that might be only pity, but personally, I liked Mrs. Lautmann.

Her chemistry with Jozef Króner is just excellent. They work extremely well together, with Kaminska as the mother and Króner as the son of this relationship. Mrs. Lautmann likes Tono, gives him food, cares about him, but she's not afraid of yelling when he's clumsy or stupid. It's a very interesting relationship as I would not call it a friendship, it's something very weird, but as I said, very interesting.

Kaminska has some really terrific and memorable moments like the one where the truth becomes clear to her and starts praying. It's simply terrific, but I felt that the overall effectiveness of this performance was a bit uneven. When she's great, she's extremely great, but when she does not have much to do, she's not very special. I wouldn't say though that she's weak for a moment. She's only a bit uneven.

In the end I can say that Ida Kaminska gave an excellent performance, which might be a bit uneven achievement and borderline supporting, but you instantly like the character, care about her and she just breaks your heart in the end. It's a great performance in a movie for the ages. Good job.
This seems fair, I think.
What do you think? No official predictions now as the final conclusion comes very soon.

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