September 16, 2004
‘Almost’ a Beginning in Paris
Most boy-meets-girl movies end when the happy pair stands under the chuppah. After all, it's not terribly dramatic what happens when they pick up the routine of daily married life.
It's a bit like that with Holocaust films: The protagonists are either killed or liberated, but if they survive, we do not see how they get back to "normalcy" and cope anew with everyday life.
The modest, low-key French import "Almost Peaceful" ("Un Monde Presque Paisible") remedies this omission.
The year is 1946 and the setting is the old Jewish quarter of Paris, where Monsieur Albert and his wife Lea have re-established their pre-war ladies tailor shop.
They employ seven men and women, all scarred in one way or another by the war years and the Holocaust, but almost content with their steady jobs and harmonious workplace.
At first, the talk about customers and problems with the kids is quite normal, laced with a few Yiddish expressions. Only occasionally is there an almost inadvertent allusion to past experiences.
Leon, who is studying to become an actor, remembers that on the day Paris was liberated, he heard among the jubilation a few French patriots yelling, "Kill the Jews."
"The fascists are still here," Leon remarks, and young Joseph, the official shlimazel of the shop, confirms the observation when he goes to the police for a residence permit. He recognizes the inspector, as imperious as ever, as the same man who arrested and deported his parents.
The most deeply wounded worker is Charles (superbly portrayed by veteran actor Dennis Podalydes), who is still hoping for the return of his wife and children from concentration camps.
When a woman declares her love for him, Charles can only say, "Love is dead. It can no longer be spoken or experienced."
Director Michel Deville concludes the film with a picnic for all of Albert's employees and their spouses and children, complete with sack races, laughter and much feasting.
The scene is as rustic and carefree as a Monet painting, but on the side sits a little boy obsessively playing with a vest pocket watch. Explains a guest, "That's the watch his father left him when he was deported."
"Almost Peaceful" opens Oct. 1 at Laemmle's Music Hall in Beverly Hills. For information, call (310) 274-6869.