Almost Peaceful (Un Monde Presque Paisible)

Robin Clifford 
Almost Peaceful ((Un Monde Presque Paisible) - click for review
Laura Clifford 

Monsieur Albert (Simon Abkaryan) and his wife Lea (Zabou Breitman) have survived Hitler’s Holocaust relatively unscathed as they reopen their tailoring business and try to rebuild the lives wrecked by the war. They hire a new staff for the shop and bring on other Jews who also survived the war in “Almost Peaceful.”

This is a slice of life drama that visits a time, place and people that has not often discussed in film. The subject of the survivors of the Holocaust, immediately after the end of World War Two, is not the usual food for filmmakers so director Michel Deville (working from a script by Rosalinde Deville) journeys into little charted territory. “Almost Peaceful” is a story about a disparate collection of survivors that have weathered the storm of war. Some, like Albert, hid from the Nazi oppressors and avoided the privations of the death camps. Others, like Charles (Denis Podalydes), survived the camps but lost his wife and children to the Nazi death camp ovens.

Deville tells the story of this extended family of strangers who come together to work in the tailor shop and, hopefully, get on with lives that may once again be, as the title says, almost peaceful. The low-key band of survivors seems to be breathing a collective sigh as they begin to get on with their lives. The story catches them at the point where things are starting to get back to normal but the shock of their shared loss and horror is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Everyone has their own story with Albert, the patriarch of the “family,” trying to rebuild his business and work hard so his son will have a better life. Lea, a beautiful woman, has a budding interest in the opposite sex, not just her husband. Charles clings to the hope that his wife and children survived the camps but deep in his heart he knows he is alone. Maurice (Stanislas Merhar) is an introverted young man who seeks comfort in the arms of prostitutes. The rest of the players in this little drama also have their own loves and hates and hopes and fears. It all ends up with everyone in the shop and their significant others taking a holiday in the country where, under the warm summer sun, they learn to accept that they are reborn.

The film starts off well with all of the characters and their different personalities being introduced. Lenser Andre Diot keeps his camera busy in the confined space of the tailor shop and homes of its members. Costume, by Madeline Fontaine, is convincingly postwar and helps give the film its period illusion. Once the characters get their introductions and each story made known, the film slows down and loses its momentum. The finale holiday-in-the-country sequence brings the action, as it were, to a halt and we are left with what feels like an extended epilogue.

“Almost Peaceful” is a good hearted period film that never really fleshes out its intent or its characters. It is a hopeful endeavor and an unusual look at survivors of Hitler’s insanity. I give it a C+.

After the horrors of World War II, Monsieur Albert (Simon Abkarian, "The Truth About Charlie") creates a patchwork extended family of Jewish survivors with his wife Léa (Zabou Breitman) and the employees of his Parisian tailoring shop in an existence that is "Almost Peaceful."

while there are many films about the Holocaust, writer/director Michel Deville tells a part of the story that is rarely addressed, the carrying on of everyday life after experiencing the worst life has to offer.  This gently comic tale is structured almost like a slamming-door theater piece, with characters coming into and out of Albert's large workspace to relate their stories.

Albert and his family (his and Léa's children write and send drawings from a country camp, a word which startles even when used benignly as it is here) survived the war hidden away in a secret space much like Anne Frank's family.   Charles (Denis Podalydès, "Safe Conduct") stands on his apartment balcony, still watching for the return of his wife and daughter from a concentration camp.  In the film's greatest irony, Léa confides to Charles that she is lonely, but Charles rebuffs her advances telling her that he is still in the company of his wife.

Léon (Vincent Elbaz), a man with matinee-idol looks, longs to be an actor.  His lovely wife Jacqueline (Lubna Azabal) awaits the birth of their next child.  Mademoiselle Andrée (Julie Gayet) looks to her boss as a father figure while young Joseph's (Malik Zidi, "Place Vendôme") klutziness is tolerated in the tailor shop like a family doting on its youngest.  The other bachelor, good-looking Maurice (Stanislas Merhar, "Dry Cleaning"), avoids relationships by patronizing a whorehouse, yet he fails to see that his loyalty to the sweet Simone (Clotilde Courau) is turning into one.  The group's only outsider is Mademoiselle Sarah (Sylvie Milhaud) who visits selling wares from scented soap to Holocaust art and acts like the group yenta.

Deville's film is pleasant, its characters good company, but it does not sustain itself, its personality not strong enough to make the film memorable. Abkarian, who resembles William Powell, gives a lusty performance as the caring patriarch, but Deville doesn't allow us to see the chinks in his marriage that would make Léa turn to Charles, who in many ways is Albert's opposite. All of the characters seem to have adjusted to their new life too easily.

The film's production is modest, its action taking place primarily in the workroom and at an outdoors country outing.  Deville inexplicably chooses to edit in still photos and the technique does nothing for the film, nor is it evenly deployed.  One fantasy sequence, where Andrée transports Albert and Léa's son Samuel into a fairy tale about a little boy who has to breath through buttonholes, charms at the same time as it raises gooseflesh with its implied meaning.


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