Eric D. Snider

Almost Peaceful (French)

The French film translated and abbreviated "Almost Peaceful" is actually titled "Un monde presque paisible," or "A World Almost Peaceful." It's based on a novel called "Quoi de neuf sur la guerre?" ("What's New About the War?"). These titles suggest, as the film does, that the cessation of war does not automatically mean that peace will break out.

Set in Paris in 1946, this gentle, loving drama takes place mostly in a small tailor's shop of mostly Jewish employees. Albert (Simon Abkarian), the owner, successfully hid from the Nazis with his wife, Lea (Zabou Breitman), and their two children, who are now away at summer camp with other children of the war, attempting to recapture a sense of normalcy. Albert is self-effacing and jovial, even making jokes in reference to the Holocaust that only a Jew who lived through it could make. (Indeed, any gentiles within hearing are shocked to hear humor so soon after the tragedy.)

He and Lea employ another married couple, Leon (Vincent Elbaz) and Jacqueline (Lubna Azabal), parents of a toddler with a baby on the way. There is also Miss Andrée (Julie Gayet), a pretty young non-Jewish woman, and Charles (Denis Podalydes), a heartbreakingly sad man whose wife and children never returned from the concentration camps, though he constantly, futilely, remains vigilant in watching for their return.

Into this shop come two young new employees. Maurice (Stanislas Merhar) is in his 20s and spends his evenings in the company of prostitutes. Joseph (Malik Zidi), 19, is fresh-faced and innocent, and utterly inept in the art of tailoring. After he goes home at night, the other cutters and seamstresses redo his work, too kind to send an eager fellow like him to the unemployment lines for so minor an offense as being incompetent.

That is the general attitude in this shop, a place of tranquility after years of foreign occupation and genocide. Conflicts among employees are infrequent; their personal dramas take place mostly outside of work as they attempt to regain their footing in their brave new world. There may still be Nazi-sympathizing fascists in town, as Leon and Charles discover one night at a bar, but the tailor shop is a place for friendly conversation and camaraderie, period.

The film, adapted by husband-and-wife team Michel Deville and Rosalinde Deville and directed by Michel, occasionally resembles a soap opera, albeit it one with more sympathetic characters and better music. (Spry, hopeful-sounding works by classical composer Giovanni Bottesini dominate the soundtrack.) Albert and Miss Andrée enjoy a platonic dinner one evening that almost leads to flirtation; Lea is lonely and finds solace in talking to the similarly melancholy Charles; Maurice and Simone (Clotilde Courau), his favorite hooker, become an actual romantic couple; Joseph wants to be a writer and confronts the Inspector who arrested his parents during the Nazi occupation. These events are all enacted tentatively, the participants fearful of hoping for too much happiness too soon, and while not every subplot really connects, most are at least passably engaging. The scene between Lea and Charles is particularly effective.

Everything culminates in a visit to the French countryside to collect Albert and Lea's children at an end-of-summer-camp picnic and party. All the central characters attend, and the combination of happy plot resolutions, spring-like classical music and beautiful scenery put a pleasant cap on a very humane, moving film.

Grade: B

Not rated, probably PG-13 for some nudity, some sexual dialogue

1 hr., 29 min.; French with subtitles

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