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"EL NORTE," Monday, 8 p.m. (50); 9 p.m. (28) (15)--Here's a promise. There will be nothing on television this season better than "El Norte." It's a small, rich, piercingly beautiful film, full of wonder and wisdom.

There will be nothing more gripping or more intensely emotional or more heartbreaking than this "American Playhouse" presentation about two Guatemalan teen-agers (a brother and sister) who set out for America following the murder of their father and disappearance of their mother. There will be nothing that makes you angrier . . . or sadder.

I make that promise on the assumption that "El Norte" will play as well on the small screen as it did on the large screen during its 1984 theatrical release which resulted in an Oscar nomination for screenwriters Gregory Nava (also the director) and Anna Thomas (also the producer).

"El Norte" is the second production (following "Testament") funded by "American Playhouse" to premiere in theaters before coming to TV. That makes two winners.

The focus of "El Norte" are Rosa and Enrique (superbly played by Mexicans Zaide Silvia Gutierrez and David Villalpando), who make the perilous and tortuous trip north to America, expecting to taste of the riches they've read about and seen in old copies of Good Housekeeping magazine.

What they encounter is something quite different, of course. They have exchanged one nightmare for another. But they are industrious and resourceful, and their dignity and devotion to each other see them through many trying times.

This is an intensely personal story. Nava and the cast are especially adept at making us experience the initial confusion, frustration and fright of Rosa and Enrique as they try to survive in a country whose language they don't speak and customs they don't understand.

"El Norte" is not without a few laughs, however. Rosa's attempts to operate a washing machine--which is unlike anything she encountered in her small village--are hilarious.

Rosa and Enrique are an irresistible pair. Their joy becomes your joy, and when they hurt, you hurt along with them. What a fine film this is.

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