Notes on “The Junk Shop”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


“The Junk Shop,” directed by Czech filmmaker Juraj Herz, and adapted from a story by Bohumil Hrabal, is a funny and inexplicable short film in the best tradition of Slavic surrealism. Based on the evidence of this picture and the 1969 “The Cremator,” a macabre sendup of bourgeoise mores, it may be appropriate to view Herz as one of those artists whose meanings defy conventional analysis. Herz’s vision and his sensibility are what you respond to in these movies, and you may continue to respond even after you’ve given up on trying to parse the director’s message. Indeed, the image of existence presented by “The Junk Shop” is so exuberantly morbid that to require it to yield a pat meaning would be churlish. The titular shop thwarts spatial reckoning; it exists amid a hodgepodge of urban construction, the elements of which arbitrarily slide into and out of comprehension. The primary business of the establishment consists in paper recycling: Its proprietors purchase the old paper of the people occupying the surrounding town, first weighing it on an enormous scale to determine its value. Most of these people accept a lottery ticket in lieu of payment; they’re exchanging waste for a hope, and piles of paper for a single voucher. Mothers lose children among the heaps of refuse. Others lose important letters, meaningful documents, or photos of themselves when young — shades of past lives inadvertently left for pulp. One woman accidentally falls down a hole in the floor, leaving her goose to wander the place for the rest of the movie. (No one wonders what happened to her.) The shop is run by a fat man in a beret and his idiot assistant. The former has artistic pretensions; he finds the junk noble, erotic, inspiring. The latter, whose teeth are as junked as the shop’s inventory, may be mad, yet he’s the only character in the picture whose philosophy, a Marx Brothers-style nihilism, seems reasonable. (Together they suggest Quixote and Sancho Panza.) There are moments that are so dryly subversive they make Bunuel’s work from the period look straight in comparison.

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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