Crimes of the French

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MHz w Chateau.jpg

In French, a mystery is un polar, a whodunit, a detective story. And now that Tacoma's nonprofit KBTC TV has picked up a second channel, 98 on Comcast's basic cable lineup, an outfit called MHzInternational is filling the nighttime schedule with a new wave of French crime dramas.

News to you? Here's what MHz says about itself.

MHz Worldview is a national, independent, non-commercial channel presenting English-language international content including news, documentaries, cultural programming, dramas, films & mysteries, music and sports..

The shows are on at 6 PM, repeating at 9. Not every night is French; there are Italian, German and Scandinavian stories as well. But here's a look at the French ones.

"Engregages" (the word refers to gears, how everything is related to and driven by something else; poorly translated as "Spiral") just ended an eight-week run. Sophisticated, adult, multi-cultural, profane, its story line intertwined police procedurals with the intricacies of the French legal system, the underworld of North African immigrants. ,

Currently running is "Antigone 34," a detective show filled with distracting, jumpy camera work (we get it, but we don't like it). The name Antigone is supposed to convey a female with male authority (I think), but it's also the name of an expansive development in Montpellier, designed by the architect Ricardo Bofil, and that's where this "shaky" story takes place. What I like about it, and like it I do, is that the handsome, bearded plastic surgeon seems to be doing some sort of personal penance in a gypsy encampment, and the lead detective, Léa Hippolyte, doesn't know she's supposed to fall in love with him.

Dolmen, on the other hand, is an unwatchable pastiche of SyFy, "Days of Our Lives" soap opera, and, I don't know, some gory Days of the Dead zombie DVDs. "Ce qui ce passe sur cette isle, ce n'est pas normal," says the earnest policeman answering the phones. Believe me, no matter how urgent the soundtrack, no matter how curvy the stars are 'neath the sheets (NSFW), this one's a disaster. I've been to Belle Isle en Mer, where this is set, and the best I can say about this eight-year-old series is that it's embarrassing.

We've seen a couple of other interesting stories on MHz over the summer. The matinée idol Alain Delon starred in a six-episode drama called "Frank Riva" that allowed the gracefully aging Delon to flash his smile and his pistol. The bad guys--Italian mafiosi--all died violently (thrown out of helicopters, etc.) while the good guys and girls survived. The main question was how long it would take Riva to figure out the the worst of the bad guys was his boyhood friend, the Minister of Justice, portrayed by the silver-haired Jacques Perrin.

My personal favorite earlier this year was watching Pierre Arditi as a Bordeaux-based consulting enologist who solves every case with inside knowledge of the wine business. The series was called "Le Sang de la Vigne," the Blood of the Vine, as it were. Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, the cases ramble on as Arditi meets old colleagues and makes fortuitous connections that produce a 100 percent success rate. The most fascinating episode involved grievances dating back to World War II, prompting me to order another copy of "Wine & War," Don Kladstrup's magnificent history highlighting the heroism of the Bordelais against the Nazi occupation.

Still to come: "Blood on the Docks," which airs on Fridays, about gangs and drugs and flics in Le Havre. Have missed every episode so far!

Nothing against the CSI series, nothing against the Law & Order franchise, but the French shows are grittier, edgier, and more believable than their American counterparts. But you already knew that, n'est-ce pas?

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on September 15, 2013 10:00 AM.

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