Jozef Kroner did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Anton "Tóno" Brtko in The Shop on Main Street.
The Shop on Main Street has a somewhat interesting history with its U.S. release and the Academy Awards. The film was initially eligible for the 1965 Awards where it won best foreign language film due to the foreign submission rules. It later became a Oscar nominee the following year, due to different Oscar submission rules outside of the foreign language category, when Ida Kaminska was nominated for Best Actress. Jozef Kroner on the other hand was ignored despite the film being from his perspective to the point that Kaminska's role as the elderly Jewish button shop owner Rozalia Lautmannová really is a supporting one. The film follows the gentile in the situation who we see as a non too remarkable sort as the film opens. Kroner embodies a contentment in the discontentment. Kroner's eyes are almost glazed over as he watches soldier move through his town without a thought in his mind on the matter. He glances upon the sights of his occupied country without much interest. That contentment towards the severity of the situation facing his country Kroner portrays as coming from the discontent for his life. The discontent in his state as a poor carpenter which Kroner exudes so well with a grumbling lip, and a disposition that seems to be holding a bit of anger just in general towards his place in the world more than anything.
After a bit wallowing in himself it lashes out quite naturally towards his well to do brother-in-law, well to do by working as a collaborator with the Nazis. The lashing out scene is a great moment in Kroner's work because of how much petulance he brings to it very much emphasizing the state of the man who is more angry at his position, as well as jealous of his brother-in-law's position than anyone around him. Kroner makes this a natural starting point and carefully doesn't go too far. He doesn't make Tóno a horrible person, but certainly not a good one. He though elicits the right sympathy just by portraying Tóno as an average man's whose behavior, while not pleasant, wouldn't be deemed too terrible if he was in a simpler situation. Despite the lashing though Tóno is given a position by his brother-in-law as the assigned Aryan to manage a shop owned by the elderly widow Rozalia Lautmannová. Kroner is great in his initial scene of arriving to the shop to "take over". In part he's good in just showing a now content Tóno who walks with such pride in the shop, then breaks this down though as he depicts such awkwardness as he attempts to explain the situation to Lautmannová who is hard of hearing.
Kroner brings actually quite a bit of very natural humor to the moment by bringing such a genuine sheepishness in his depiction of the unease of Tóno as he tries to deliver some horrible news. Now the interesting things is that Kroner shows so effectively the way the seemingly now content Tóno has this moment of realization. Kroner finds this just in these early interactions by creating a sense of the empathy in Tóno towards the old woman in the situation as he struggles to even say the words. Kroner properly makes every moment of this having this tension of the man who realizes he's doing something he can't quite completely accept as right, as reinforces every moment with the right shyness that reflects this understanding of what this really means. Tóno soon learns that the woman is essentially bankrupt and the Jewish community will support him to support her. Kroner again is so good in just reflecting with such honesty the man taking all this in somewhat baffled, somewhat confused, but within his eyes the right hint of sympathy given the situation. This even includes the widow not really being all that nice to him once he starts to assist her in the shop.
Kroner in these scenes is very good in the way he makes the arc of Tóno quietly such a poignant one. On the surface he's good in again actually being a bit funny actually in showing the strange way that he physically works around the woman, as well as attempts to portray both a confidence of pretending to run the shop while trying to basically mind his manners around her. Tóno realizes this dance so well, but goes much further than this in showing the change in Tóno as he finally begins to notice what is going on around. Kroner is marvelous in the subtle way he depicts this change in his often reactionary performance. Kroner's face says so much more than so many words would in every scene. This is in the quiet appreciation of the person in the old woman, despite her misgivings towards him, but also far more in his reactions towards seeing the increasing nature of the regime in front of him. A particularly powerful moment in this regard coming when a friend of his, and supporter of the local jews is beaten and displayed for the public to see. Kroner's expression is haunting as he realizes within certainly the fear for his own fate, concern for his friend, but his eyes also convey this sense of recognition of the plight around him in general including the old Jewish woman.
This brings me to the film's finale which is an extended sequence that is dependent on Kroner's performance. It is actually a largely silent sequence as the man drinks while watching the Jews being round up for deportation from the old Jewish woman's shop, while she remains unaware of what is going on around him. Although technically it is a sparse sequence I was absolutely transfixed for every second of it, and the greatest contributor to this is Kroner's performance. Kroner is absolutely outstanding as he depicts such a vivid portrayal of the inner workings of the man's mind on this fateful day. There is not a single second wasted, and even though he only has a couple of lines, often of little importance, there is nothing vague in this performance. Kroner brings to life this struggle which he never simplifies. In his eyes, his moments of turning from the danger, or thinking of the woman he says so much without verbalizing a word. There are times again of obvious fear but that is never all there is. Kroner even in that finds the struggle within the fear of the man both at times succumbing to it, and other times feeling a different fear for the woman. Kroner projects this weight of the situation upon this man. There are times where he is selfish, other he is selfless, but it is never anything to be taken lightly. It is incredible to watch as Kroner finds the complexity of this with such an emotional impact in every moment of the man dealing with his own demons and weaknesses, while still concerning himself with the fate of this old woman. It is fascinating how much Kroner finds with this painful silence of this single horrible moment. When something finally happens that directly affects him his reaction is wholly heartbreaking and completely earned as his work to that point has so effectively brought us within the mind of this man. This is a fantastic performance as it is not a portrayal of a bad man becoming a good man. Kroner rather gives us something perhaps far more human in a man struggling with his better self, with his worse self as he faced with being responsible for more that just himself for once in his life.