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Friday, 14 April 2017

Showcase on European Cinema

I am ever on the lookout for new sources for watching relatively obscure foreign-language movies, but every time I find an unheralded satellite channel with imaginative schedules, the channel in question seems to be doomed -- i.e. insufficient viewers to attract the necessary advertisers to support it. The subscription channel CineMoi was a sad instance of this, disappearing up its own whatsit within a year -- and there were earlier instances too.

Therefore I was completely charmed to discover that the hitherto boring channel Showtime now screens what they label "Eurocinema" between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. daily with an hour out for some weird Chinese programme. I discovered this recently when the ShowBiz Channel (showing the occasional film programme of interest) went suddenly out of business -- literally a case of here today and gone tomorrow.  Since there are an inordinate number of minor satellite channels whose listings are considered too obscure to be included in any of the standard newspaper or magazine programme listings, I have made a point once a week to check out the forward schedules on various channels (Talking Pictures, Movies 24, True Movies etc.) on my DigiGuide for which I pay an annual subscription.

With Showbiz disappearing I noticed that I had not checked Showtime for a while since most of their film offerings were in "The Attack of the Giant Leeches" or "I was a Teenaged Caveman" category. So when I checked that channel a few weeks back, I made the happy discovery outlined above. I have no idea when they started this European strand (or how long I've been missing out on it) nor how long it will last given past disappointments. So I am recording as many movies that I've not seen previously to my hard disc and hope to get through these before yet another channel bites the dust.

It's an interesting assortment of films, many of which I've not heard of previously, so I'm looking forward to some happy viewing while this source lasts. So far I've watched the Russian flick "Taxi Blues" (1990) which has been on my 'would like to see' list for a while (I didn't actually reckon it much in the end although it is well thought of) and several very strange short films. However the pick of the bunch so far has been "Let There be Light" (1998) a charming, French fantasy film from director Arthur Joffe, whose filmography is otherwise short and fairly undistinguished.

It seems that God has written a screenplay (as thick as a Bible) and wants to go down to earth to have it filmed. Since the Almighty is invisible, he needs to assume a corporeal presence and moves from body to body (including a cat and a pigeon) as the mood takes him; we can tell where he is at any moment since the host body develops a noticeable eye twitch. In fact his shape-shifting is so volatile that it is hard to keep tract and a number of familiar French faces such as Yolande Moreau and Michael Lonsdale have cameos so brief that they literally pass in the blink of an eye. This taking over of unsuspecting bodies reminded me strongly of the cult horror movie "The Hidden" (1987), but with a very different agenda. God is accompanied throughout by his assistant and sidekick angel played by Ticky Holgado who bemoans that he has not yet received some fully functional wings and who improvises makeshift ones throughout.

Eventually God finds would-be filmmaker Jeanne winningly played by Helene de Fougerolles (another new name to me) who eventually manages to shoot his script despite studio interference from Tcheky Karyo, who is in fact playing the Devil. God is particularly keen on this namesake of Joan of Arc on whom he 'had a crush' and whose fate he has been regretting for centuries. When the finished film is finally screened the audience members are completely charmed since what they are viewing is exactly what each of them would most wish to see in a movie, which of course is different for everyone. Even Karyo can not restrain his laughter and they all go soaring off into the sky, just like the final scene in "Miracle in Milan" (1951). It's a strange but ultimately satisfying film that could only have been made in France. I shudder to think what a U.S remake might be like.

I've also discovered that Showcase has a sister channel, Showcase 3, which is still largely screening B-movies although occasional cult movies like "Beat the Devil" (1953) and "The Great Flamarion" (1945) can be found in their schedules. To my amazement, last week that channel screened "The End of St Petersburg" (1927) which ran 20 minutes longer than my own copy and which also boasted a fine orchestral score -- my previous copy was really a 'silent' movie.

I'll keep my fingers crossed for Showcase. Long may it wave!
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