Un monde presque paisible (Almost Peaceful) (2002)
Director: Michel Deville.
Cast: Simon Abkarian (Albert), Zabou Breitman (Léa), Vincent Elbaz (Léon), Lubna Azabal (Jacqueline), Denis PodalydPs (Charles), Julie Gayet (Mme. Andrée), Malik Zidi (Joseph), Stanislas Merhar (Maurice), Clotilde Courau (Simone), Sylvie Milhaud (Mme. Sarah), Judith D'Aléazzo(Mme. Himmelfarb), François Clavier (Police Commissioner), Hervé Briaux (Proprietor), Pierre Diot (Fascist at Café), Eric Laugérias (Charles' Lawyer).
in post-war France, Jewish Parisians try to build a new life after the Holocaust
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Léa is leaving to take her two children, Betty and Raphael, to summer camp. Albert the tailor, the father, is staying home to run his business. Maurice and Joseph Abramowica arrive to ask him for a job in his shop. He takes the young men up to his shop to show the around and get to know them better. He soon puts them to work on the sewing machines or stitching by hand.
There are others in the shop. Jacqueleine is the wife of Léon Frydman, who checks and irons the clothes. Jacqueleine works with Mme. Andrée (who is not Jewish). The two women work with Léa stitching. Charles Grynstam works with a sewing machine. Madame Sarah often comes to the shop to sell various things to the workers and the owner.
All the Jewish workers and owners have been the victim of anti-Semitism and/or fascist prejudice and discrimination. Some of them had to hide for the entire period of the German occupation. Albert hid in a room above a tailor's shop. Léa also had to hide. Charles had to go to a concentration camp. His wife and child got separated from him. They were also in a concentration camp and Charles does not know if they are dead or alive. He has taken the room near the tailor shop where he used to live, just in case his wife and child show up.
Léa returns from the summer camp. Madame Sarah comes up to sell soap. Léa asks her husband to go with Mme. Andrée to dinner, while she is occupied elsewhere. Albert is uneasy about this. He does not know what to talk about with the gentile woman and is a bit uneasy, but he agrees to the idea. At dinner Albert learns that Mme. Andrée has also been a victim of fascism. Her sister fell in love with a German soldier and had a baby by him. With the liberation of France, the people shaved her head and harassed her. And the harassment still goes on. Mme. Andrée tells Albert that her sister wants to come to Paris to get away from the harassment. She adds that her hair has grown back. Mme. Andrée wants to know if her sister might be employed in Albert's shop. Albert is very doubtful about the idea, but does not give an absolute no answer. The dinner must have gone well for the two dinners touch hands at the table.
Maurice uses the services of a prostitute, named Simone. Albert gets very angry at the anti-Semite living below the shop who knocks on the ceiling whenever there he a loud noise in the shop. He opens the window and shouts his defiance against the prejudiced man. Mme. Andrée tells Maurice she will pay him to make a winter coat for her. Maurice is agreeable to the idea.
Léa and Charles find themselves alone. Albert's wife uses the time to complain about her husband. She tells Charles that Albert does not love her anymore. Before the children, Albert would kiss her in public. But since the children he has stopped that practice. Charles tries to dismiss the feeling by saying that now that Albert loves the two children, she is panicking. Léa tells Charles that she likes him. She evens hugs him from behind when his back is to her. Charles tells him that he is not free. He is still married and has a child. He tells Léa to please not try to take the place of his wife. So he discourages her, but then he encourages her by saying he treasures the time he has with her when they are alone together.
Betty and Raphael are back from summer camp. Raphael's friend Georges comes over for a visit. The two boys ask permission to ride the train by themselves. Albert tells them o.k., but Raphael must take his sister with him. The boys agree to the arrangement and leave.
Joseph has some business to do at the police station. He is trying to get a good apartment. He speaks with the inspector. Joseph suddenly tells the inspector that he recognizes him. The inspector is the one who arrested him and his parents. The inspector denies it and then tells him he will do everything in his power to make sure Joseph does not get a good apartment. Joseph tells the inspector off and then leaves the station.
Charles tells Léa that he is thinking of going to either America or another English speaking country. He has not made up his made on his actual destination. Léa does not like the idea, but does not openly oppose it. They hold hands briefly before entering the door to the shop. They soon learn that Jacqueleine and Léon have a new baby. They are happy for them.
Two of the guys from the tailor shop talk in a bar. A man at the bar overhears them and talks about the mistreat by the police of the Jewish residents. He seems to think the actions of the police were for his own amusement. He tries to joke about the matter to the two men. After he leaves, the two Jewish fellows talk about the anti-Semites and the anti-Semitism that still can be found in the French people.
Albert and Léa invite everyone in the shop and their families to a picnic in a park. Maurice brings the prostitute to the picnic, but no one makes a fuss about it. There is a young guy at the picnic who is attracted to Léa. The prostitute tells Léa to go for it and instructs her and the art of flirtation. Albert sees his wife trying to follow Simone's instructions and goes over to her and kisses her in public. Later they hold hands while walking in the park. Léa and Albert seem much happier now.
This is a pretty good movie. It is very short and simple. But one can see the great sadness and hurt among the people in the tailor shop. Everyone has been seriously damaged by anti-Semitism and German fascism and occupation in some form or another. My wife emphasized the sadness of the characters, as if they were a bit desperate. They are searching for wholeness and this expresses itself in ways not so socially acceptable. Albert and Mme. Andrée flirt with each other over dinner and hold hands. Léa thinks she is in love with Charles and tells him so. Charles says he is still married, but does start a low-level affair with Léa. Maurice uses the services of a prostitute. Complicating their search for greater happiness, is the still continuing anti-Semitism among many of the citizens of France. Let's just hope that the anti-social behavior of some of the Jewish citizens doesn't bring more harm than good. And from the ending it looks like the answer is that they will re-establish healthy relationships with one another.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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