Friday, March 23, 2012

Neglected Gem #11: Almost Peaceful (Un monde presque paisible) (2002)

It’s a funny thing about movies. They may get critical acclaim, even score some box office success and years later they’re barely mentioned by anyone or even remembered. And there’s often no discernible reason for their fates. I really can’t tell why Neil Jordan’s terrific and accessible heist movie The Good Thief, which got good reviews when it came out in 2002, has pretty much vanished into the ether. Or why Steve Jordan’s powerful documentary Stevie (2002) failed to match the impact of his earlier 1994 doc Hoop Dreams. Or even why The Lord of the Rings’s Peter Jackson’s mock 1995 documentary Forgotten Silver didn’t become the cult hit it should have been. In any case, here is the latest entry in a series of disparate movies you really ought to see.

Taking place immediately following World War II, Michel Deville’s Almost Peaceful is a loving, moving portrait of Jewish survivours of the Holocaust attempting to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives in Paris. Unlike better known Holocaust films (Schindler's ListThe Pianist), which concentrate on survivors' actual, horrific experiences during the war, Almost Peaceful, based on a book by Robert Bober, is a low-key drama that never engages in graphic imagery.

Set in a tailor shop which has just been reclaimed by its owners, the film follows the business' proprietors, Albert (Simon Abkarian) and Lea (Zabou Brietman), and their employees as they rebuild their existences. One pines for family members who will never return; another finds solace in the arms of prostitutes. Others engage in their own affairs of the heart. Beautifully shot and rendered, the evocative Almost Peaceful is firmly placed in the humane tradition of French directors like Fran├žois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) and Louis Malle (Au revoir les enfants), but with a heart and spirit all its own.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches film courses at Ryerson University's LIFE Institute.

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