Vet French filmmaker Michel Deville has been prolific in his native country but few, if any, of his many films (with the possible exception of La Lectrice) have ever had a significant impact on stateside audiences. With 2002's Almost Peaceful, he delivers a sweet drama that shows great respect for the ability to survive and for kids as hope for a better future. Otherwise, it's no breakthrough.
As an ensemble piece offering harsh themes rendered easily digestible by spoonfuls of sweetness and compassion, Almost Peaceful is too mild and treacly to enhance Deville's reputation with American audiences. But the film's consideration of French Jews returned to Paris and readjusting as the country emerges from the shameful period of collaboration and outright persecution might provide some initial want-to-see in niche segments.
This slice of postwar life focuses on Albert's (Simon Abkarian) tailor workshop in a working-class section of Paris. It's 1946 and Jewish refugees like Charles (Denis Podalyd's), Maurice (Stanislas Merhar) and Joseph (Malik Zidi) are lucky to find work with the compassionate Albert. As survivors of the Holocaust, they now have homebound issues to deal with: Charles must contend with a greedy landlord who wants to relocate him; Maurice, apparently unable to forge a normal relationship, seeks solace with a kindly prostitute (Clothilde Courau), more Irma La Douce than hardened working girl; and Joseph has his heart set upon becoming a writer, not a tailor.
It's Joseph who has the film's most poignant encounter when he confronts the police official who arrested his parents during the infamous 1942 roundup of Parisian Jews that sent so many to their deaths. Joseph's innocent family didn't survive, but the official still holds his job.
The only non-Jew in Albert's atelier is Madame Andree (Julie Gayet), who pressures Albert to find work for her young sister who bore a child as a result of a liaison with a German soldier, was shamed as a collaborator by her village, and is now desperate for help. Not that Albert is spared is own problems: His wife Lea (Zabou Breitman) has developed a fierce crush on Charles. But like too many of the narrative threads in the film, this one remains stray.
The various snapshots of the workshop denizens never further evolve. Rather, Deville concludes with a gentle tableau of the Jewish survivors enjoying a Renoiresque gathering at a children's country retreat, an obvious metaphor for the post-war paradise afforded lucky survivors.
While Deville certainly treats his story and characters with warmth and compassion, Almost Peaceful offers little plot and no names, a formula that won't translate into significant business. Reviews may be respectful, but not enough to fuel interest or excitement.