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A welcome glimpse of TV from around the world

IF ``Burning Patience'' is any example, viewers in the United States have been missing a lot by not seeing more TV from other countries. But with this program, PBS is doing something about it. This film is the first of four weekly samplings of public television from West Germany, Britain, Switzerland, and France (some have short subjects at the end). Collectively called ``International TV'' and with Leslie Caron as host, the shows are from a recent public TV screening conference by INPUT, which holds such sessions each year around the world. The South Carolina ETV network, US ``secretariat'' for the group, produced the series.

Four programs hardly represent world TV, but this is a rewarding first step. Burning Patience (PBS, Sunday, 10-11:30 p.m., check local listings) -- a wise, funny, and sometimes moving tale -- is a fine example of a fact-and-fable genre not very familiar to American viewers. It was produced in West Germany, but only by default, since its writer and director is Antonio Skarmeta, a Chilean exile there. The filming took place in Portugal, whose spare, shining landscape and sometimes brooding shoreline serve well.

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Originally a novel and recently an Off Broadway play, ``Patience'' (with English subtitles) applies liberal poetic license to recent political history.

Mario is a postman in the seaside village Isla Negra, where Pablo Neruda, Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet, lived until his passing in 1983. Mario courts Beatriz, the young village beauty, and wins her -- Cyrano-style -- by borrowing some of Neruda's famous words and by learning the judicious use of metaphors from his eminent teacher.

One of the film's deceptively simple graces is the interplay of poetry, history, and human insight. Mario's purposeful ``metaphor'' lessons from Neruda lead to some shining moments of wonder and joy and also to a delicious humor best captured when Beatriz's mother listens in amazement and suspicion as her daughter describes Mario's artistic flattery. The mother's shrewd folk sense sees through the verbal tactics to her daughter's vulnerability, and in an amusing diatribe, the mother demands a resolution.

The film's relatively brief political scenes, no doubt, speak volumes to many Chileans, but Americans who are not regular followers of Latin affairs will interpret them in a more general way.

Neruda's unsuccessful candidacy as the Communist candidate in the election that brought Allende to power is touched on, along with his tenure as Chile's ambassador in Paris. And sinister events at the story's end depict how things were after Allende's overthrow.

Neruda's platform -- a generic kind of poet's populism -- is seen here as simply an adjunct to the story's primary appeal, which is the simple evocation of the folk spirit in a land where a postman can say, ``I'd love to be a poet,'' and not sound strange. And where a man who already is a famous poet can answer, ``Everyone is a poet in Chile -- it's more original to be a postman,'' and not sound cutting.

That spirit ends, according to this story, with the fall of Allende. The film also darkly suggests that it is also the fall of the age of innocence so touchingly captured in this often beautiful tale.

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To round out the 90 minutes of this program, a brief but clever hand-drawn animation short from Denmark called ``Tonespor'' is shown. It ``visualizes'' a piece of musical polyphony with moving lines that undulate, multiply, regroup, and change direction.

Next in the anthology is a BBC documentary called ``The Marketing of Margaret,'' dealing with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's latest re-election campaign (supplemented with ``Danse Macabre,'' a short musical spoof from Switzerland).

``Video Gratias'' follows, a Swiss documentary that explores electronic churches in the US.

The last program, an award-winning French film (``The Eyes of the Birds''), concerns political prisoners in Uruguay and actually enters one of the prisons.

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