While still a film student at UCLA, Charles Burnett made Killer of Sheep about the kinds of lives he observed in his youth. The film tells the story of a family living in poverty in an L.A. ghetto. Rather than a traditional plotline, Burnett's film is structured like the lives of his characters: it picks up on something, gets going, and just when it seems to be heading toward a climax, collapses. We follow the characters from failure to failure, from efforts toward family and income to impotence and frustration. Burnett is aware that the freedoms an audience typically relates to on the screen -- the trajectories of a film's various characters -- are just as typically only available to people who can afford those freedoms. Poverty, he suggests, deserves a different plot structure. Killer of Sheep can be placed modestly alongside the films of other, more strictly modernist directors, particularly Michelangelo Antonioni or Abbas Kiarostami, who also have found classical narrative constructions inadequate. Killer of Sheep is highly poetic, offering metaphor, lyricism, and sensual symbolic order, and seeks to illuminate lives through a tender visual style. Though it is about poverty and isolation, rather than collapsing into a nightmare of total alienation (as might an Antonioni film), Killer of Sheep balances the despair it contains with humor and warmth.