Racism is looked at deeply and provocatively in this revealing film. During the last World War, a small town in Slovakia was turned into a crucible Fascist state by the Nazis. Locals run everything and there are no Germans in sight. It concerns a not too pretty and mean little man who harbors a resentment against the local Nazis though he does nothing about it.
His own brother-in-law is the town police head and he is given the right to take over the store of an old Jewish woman by his relative when plans for deporting the Jews are well developed. She has lost her husband in the last war and all that is left is this little drygoods shop.
When the deportations start she is somehow forgotten and he decides he will do something to hide her. The end has him going through divided outlooks about what to do, both wanting to help her but fearing reprisals.
This is all done with a non-rancorous flair sans any hysterical overtone. This makes it even more poignant. It becomes a statement on how anti-Semitism can be bred by oversight, plain laziness or general apathy. Directors Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos have built this carefully, and have given a good feel of the times and personalities before the drama erupts.
Ida Kaminska, a noted Polish actress from the Warsaw Yiddish Theatre, has the right blend of charm and aging dignity. Josef Kroner also gives life to the little man in his moments of decision.
1965: Best Foreign Language Film