It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In a sunny upstairs room in Paris, eight or nine people gather daily to tailor clothes. The room is in a flat belonging to Albert and Lea, who run the business and have hired these people quite recently, for it is 1946 and all but one of them is Jewish and they have returned to their trade after the horror of the war. The atmosphere in the room is cozy and chatty, relaxed almost to a fault, as if these people have been holding their breath for years and are grateful for a day that passes without event.
Michel Deville's "Almost Peaceful" is unlike any other film I have seen about the Holocaust. Indeed, the abstract concept of a holocaust has not yet been formed as these people reassemble their ordinary lives. They speak about what happened, about "the camps" where their loved ones disappeared, about the war, but they do not go into detail because they lived through it firsthand and do not need to be reminded -- none of them except the one gentile woman, who is puzzled when a new employee introduces himself, and the others burst into laughter. What's so funny? What's funny, or at least what's able to be laughed about, is that he can say his Jewish name loudly and freely in Paris once again.
Albert (Simon Abkarian) and Lea (Zabou Breitman) own the business. Their children are away in the south of France, at summer camp, sending back letters and drawings that are eagerly awaited. Of the others, there is a man who returned to the neighborhood hoping any of his surviving relatives would find their way there, and an unemployed actor with a pregnant wife, and a new employee fit only to cut and trim, and a young man named Maurice (Stanislas Merhar), who visits the prostitutes at a nearby hotel.
The gentile woman goes out to lunch one day with Albert to ask if he can find a job for her sister, who had a child by a German soldier and after the war had her head shaved and was made to run naked through the town. She tells it as a sad story. But Albert cannot help her. A lot of people had sad experiences in the war, he says, quietly.