"Almost peaceful but almost not" should have been the title of Michel Deville's film about the aftermath of the Holocaust. Set in a tailor's shop in a Parisian Jewish district in 1946, the film traces a group of characters as they struggle to come to terms with the scars of the Nazi terror. Watched over by kindly garment maker Albert (Simon Abkarian), the protagonists slowly learn to live again in this enigmatic and ever so slightly frustrating film.
"We came from nowhere, we're nobody and we own nothing," is how Albert describes his extended Jewish family of camp survivors, Resistance fighters, and ordinary citizens. A year after the scourge of Nazism has been destroyed, the tailor's shop's workers find themselves no nearer to rediscovering the peace of their old lives. Surrounded by anti-Semitism and completely devastated by the aftershock of the Holocaust, they're walking wounded - spiritually and mentally, if not physically.
Life goes on, but nobody is really living it: Charles (Denis Podalydès) is haunted by memories of his wife lost in the camps; Albert is on the verge of having an affair with one of his seamstresses; Maurice (Stanislas Merhar) spends his time with the local prostitutes to distract him from his melancholy. They're passing their days in a shell-shocked vacuum, too afraid to speak about the past, too troubled to forget it.
"TOO BIG A THEME FOR SUCH A SMALL FILM"
The screenplay is based a novel by Robert Bober, and it shows. Unable to delve beyond the surfaces of his characters, Deville struggles to do anything but mention their grief, as if unable to deal with it himself. Perhaps it's simply too big a theme for such a small film to tackle. Certainly, the historical realities of the Holocaust, and the influx of returning Jewish survivors to Paris, is beyond its limited scope - suggesting that the story of this much-neglected aspect of the liberation of France is still waiting to be properly told.
In French with English subtitles.