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Robert Lloyd Review-O-Rama: '9 Star Hotel,' 'French in Action'

July 22, 2008 |  5:53 pm

"9 Star Hotel" (KCET, tonight, 10 p.m.). A haunting fly-on-the-wall documentary by Ido Haar that follows a group of undocumented Palestinian workers building the Israeli planned city of Modi'in in the days before the Separation Wall made even illegal work impossible. (Although the film doesn't say so, the city was planned by Moshe Safdie, who famously designed Expo '67's Habitat in Montreal, as well as L.A.'s own Skirball Cultural Center.) Living in low-lying improvised complexes of cardboard and tin in the hills above the town, they cook, sing, scavenge, try to stay warm, hide or run from the police -- not always successfully. And they talk, about all sorts of things, from attractive female border guards, to the Holocaust, to their families and their disappearing work. There is no rancor, only confusion and resolve. The film won best documentary at the 2006 Jerusalem International Film Festival.

"French in Action" after the jump.

"French in Action" (KLCS, weeknights, 4 a.m.) Up late last week, I stumbled across this old friend (or perhaps I should say “vieux ami”), a French-immersion language course from the late '80s. Currently airing on the LAUSD-connected PBS station KLCS, it is part of a free satellite feed from Annenberg Media. (Annenberg/CPB was one of its original producers, along with WGBH and Yale and Wellesley Universities.) The first eight minutes of each episode are taken up with what amounts to a serial romantic comedy, featuring Robert (Charles Mayer), a young American with a bad sense of a direction, and a French art student, Mireille, played by Valérie Allain. The remaining two-thirds are a kind of expanded recap of the first, as Prof. Pierre Capretz, the man behind the system, helps you understand what you heard, using clips of old French films (not so old at the time), TV commercials and cartoons from the pages of (someplace like but not necessarily) Paris Match. With its beautiful young people and Paris locations, it suggests a language course as directed by Eric Rohmer -- indeed, Rohmer's “L'amour l'apres-midi” figured in a recent episode. As with many things I think are mine alone, it has a considerable cult, much of it worshipfully devoted to the stunning Allain. (Jean-Luc Godard used her, nakedly, in “Armide,” his portion of the messy opera anthology film “Aria”).  It's nearing the end of its 52-part run –- Annenberg will next make the series available in September -- but there are a number of episodes up on YouTube, and Annenberg Media's has the set for sale for $450. The fan site Mystère et boules de gomme is the place to go to know all.

--Robert Lloyd