December Highlights on TCM
THREE CHARLES BURNETT FILMS (December 2, 4am, 5:30am & 5:45am)-- For many years, it was difficult to see Charles Burnett's great 1979 film Killer of Sheep. Thanks to the efforts of UCLA and Milestone Films, it is now available on big and small screens. Like so many other people, I was bowled over by the eloquent simplicity of this picture, which is about an African-American slaughterhouse worker who becomes increasingly depressed and remote from his family. Really, as far as plot goes, that is the picture, which was shot in black and white for under $10,000. But Killer of Sheep is a very delicate film of moods, gestures, interactions, gradual emotional turns. It's also a closely observed portrait of what it's like to work day in and day out in a physically revolting, soul-coarsening, crushingly repetitive job. The picture has been rightly judged as a modern American classic, and if you've never seen it don't miss it. TCM is also showing two of Burnett's many wonderful shorts, The Horse and When It Rains. If you don't know the work of this genuinely poetic filmmaker, this is a good place to start.
LA PROMESSE (December 2, 2am)--The sudden emergence of the Dardenne Brothers in the late '90s was one of the most surprising developments in world cinema. They had made a few documentaries and a couple of fiction films in the '80s and early '90s, but they really burst onto the scene with La Promesse in 1996. That picture, which TCM is showing this month, felt like a first film and a work of real mastery, all at once. It opened the door onto a world we had not previously seen in movies--the hand-to-mouth existences of those living on the margins in Europe's post-industrial cities, trafficking in illegal immigrants--and it also took a completely fresh approach to filmmaking and visual storytelling: the picture was immediate, shot with a handheld camera in a style closely related to documentary, but the story of a young boy (Jérémie Renier--he's grown up in the Dardennes' films) who slowly realizes that his father (Olivier Gourmet) is just as much his enemy as his friend was as suspenseful as a film by Hitchcock. And what was amazing was that the conflict seemed to grow directly out of the lives of the characters and the world where they lived. Let's say that Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne make spiritual suspense films, each one a revelatory experience. La Promesse is where it all began.
by Martin Scorsese