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Manoel de Oliveira
Jewish tailor Albert (Abkarian) and his wife Lea (Breitman) are reestablishing their business in 1946 Paris. Albert hires six people, more than he needs to meet current slow season demand, and all but Jacqueline (Lubna Azabal) are Jews who somehow survived the occupation. Slowly, tentatively they get to know each other as they cut, stitch, press, and fit men's and women's clothes. But each has to reestablish his or her life and relationships among sometimes indifferent or hostile Parisians. Written by
A Very Apt Title for an Unusual Story of Holocaust Survivors
[See the IMDb home page for this film for the cast names. They aren't known much in the U.S.]
Most movies (and stories) about Jews and the Holocaust take place either during the war or very long after when events combine to force recollection. Sometimes such latter-day stirrings lead to centrally critical flashbacks as in the currently showing "Rosenstrasse." French veteran director and writer Michel Deville has a different approach in "Almost Peaceful," one that works rather well.
The time is the France of 1946 and a fairly flourishing tailor shop is run by Albert, married to Lea. They have two little kids, a boy and a girl. During the war the Jewish couple suffered separation, Albert in hiding in a house and Lea with their first child secreted away on a farm.
Albert has a big heart and his shop has workers who survived the camps or hid during the terror. Most are Jewish. One young man fought in the Resistance. An older fellow was liberated from the death camps but his wife has not been found and he knows that she surely is lost. Lea, believing Albert is no longer enchanted with her, might go for a fling with the seldom smiling tailor but he is still married in his heart. He is sad but not despondent - in his own way he seeks to regain some joy in just being alive.
This eclectic admixture embraces several young men, one a writer-in-promise, the other something of a certifiable klutz with two left hands and a big heart. A bespoke craftsman he never will be.
The title of the movie reflects the reality the people in the tailor shop encounter every day. The Nazis are gone, collaborators have been punished but the "usual suspects," those dependable anti-Semites of the stripe who railroaded Dreyfus, are still around. One of the young men seeks permanent papers from a police inspector to be coldly told that the officer will do everything in his power to thwart the guy's application. He leaves the place and confidently remarks to a cop outside the front door that it's a new day in France when a Jew can walk OUT of a police station. That encapsulates the experience of not only the film's characters but so many other Jewish survivors in France and other countries. There is greater protection, less peril but...they are still rejected as different by many.
The charm of "Almost Peaceful" is how some very ordinary people begin life anew after very extraordinary experiences. The tattoos on several of the characters' wrists are barely visible, just enough to remind viewers of their ordeal.
Children - born, expected and hoped for - play a central role in the film. The excellent, unaffected acting prevents what might have been a cloy plot from ever being so. There's a lot of subtle charm and good humor here as the tailor shop crew and their friends carefully but optimistically renew a vibrant life after a deadly storm.
The film ends, appropriately, satisfyingly at a Jewish summer camp where kids experience fun, games and as much food as they want. Their playful laughter is the story's fine coda.
By the way, IMDb lists the composer correctly as Giovanni Bottesini and has a page for him with no information. Do other "film score composers" such as Beethoven and Mozart have their own nearly blank IMDb pages? I think someone didn't realize that Bottesini, perhaps the finest composer ever for the double-bass, died in 1869.
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