Playing God - and that's just in his spare time

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The Independent Online
This is your news-reader, God. Here beginneth the news.

Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, the best-known and most controversial newsreader in France, will play God, and himself, in a forthcoming movie entitled Let There be Light.

To be precise, Mr Poivre d'Arvor, France's equivalent of Trevor McDonald or Dan Rather, will play God taking on the personality of Mr Poivre d'Arvor. Many in France would describe this as an outrageous piece of type-casting.

For the past 10 years PPDA, as he is known, has read the news at 8pm most weekdays on the most popular French television channel, TF1. The routine has not been altered by his conviction for receiving politically- motivated gifts, which was upheld recently by the highest French appeal court. Unabashed, he continues to read the news in his own suffocating style, which involves much seductive pouting of the lips and closing of the eyes.

In his new venture, described by the production company as "a very small role", Mr Poivre d'Arvor, 49, appears as himself. But his character is one of several in the movie hijacked by God, who descends to earth to make a movie which will save the world - or at least France - from sin. The effort proves so great that God/PPDA disappears to Tibet and turns up, with his head shaved and in monk's robes, at a Buddhist temple.

The final scenes will be filmed this week in the suburbs of Paris, although most of the movie has been shot in Budapest to save money. Even so, Le Canard Enchaine, the satirical and investigative newspaper, reports that the movie will cost more than 50m French francs (around pounds 5m), which is a big-budget production in France. PPDA's fee has not been disclosed.

Until Le Canard broke the news last week, the filming had been conducted in the greatest secrecy, with copies of the screenplay destroyed after each day's work. PPDA's co-actors include the sculptural Arielle Dombasle, whose last movie was the disastrous Le Jour et La Nuit, directed by her husband, the philosopher and would-be film director, Bernard-Henri Levy.

Let there be Light (Que la Lumiere Soit), which will reach French cinemas in October, is described by its production company, Ciby 2000, as a satire and a "dramatic comedy". It represents, according to Canard, a final, desperate attempt by the company to restore its finances. Ciby 2000 belongs to the giant construction company, the Bouygues group, which has serious financial problems of its own. It would like to unload Ciby 2000, probably to a foreign company such as Disney, but needs one big success to attract the right kind of bids. As God remarks at one point in the script: "C'est la crise, ou quoi?"

In February PPDA lost his final appeal against his conviction in 1995 for accepting pounds 60,000 in embezzled funds from a businessman, acting on behalf of politicians. Whether this amounted to bribe-taking is a question of definition. Mr Poivre d'Arvor claims he took the money, in the form of free plane tickets and other gifts, "without thinking", because many of his colleagues were doing the same thing. The businessman claims that the sweeteners to PPDA bought, among other things, a live appearance on TV for his son-in-law, the then rising but now disgraced centre-right politician, Michel Noir.

TF1 refused to remove PPDA from the screen. It said the charges - and the pounds 22,000 fine and 15 months suspended prison sentence - were old hat and a "closed affair". It did not add that his ratings were rising, and that his news bulletin is now far more popular than the rival on France- 2.

This is not PPDA's first venture on to the big screen. He has made a score of tiny plot-advancing appearances, as himself reading the news, including one in the movie Assassin, which will be shown in the Cannes Film Festival next month. But this will be the first time he has taken a somewhat more complicated role. "I am not an actor and have no intention of becoming one," he said last week. "For me, it is just a question of displaying a little humour and distance about my status."

Can he act? Of course, said Le Figaro, rather bitchily. He does it most nights on TF1.