Lushly photographed and beautifully acted, AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE was the second feature directed by New Zealander Jane Campion, who would win a world-wide reputation with her following film, THE PIANO.
Adapted from the autobiography of novelist and poet Janet Frame (Kerry Fox), the film tells the story of a stubborn, plain, introverted redhead whose thirst for knowledge and determination to be a writer set her apart in her isolated rural community. She's shy as a child; in college, she finds
herself increasingly alienated from her fellow students. She feels awkward and ugly, and when her lively, self-confident sister (Glynis Angell) arrives, Janet only looks worse by comparison. She retreats into a life of fantasy and isolation, and eventually has a nervous breakdown. Committed to an
institution, Janet is diagnosed--incorrectly, it later turns out--as an incurable schizophrenic. Leaving the hospital, Janet meets Frank Sargeson (Martyn Sanderson), an eccentric writer, who encourages her to broaden her perspectives by traveling. Slowly Janet emerges from her shell, and by the
time she returns to New Zealand, some peace (if not exactly happiness) has become possible for her.
Jane Campion has established a reputation for making slightly off-center films in which regular folks get glimpses of the darkness that lurks beneath the surfaces of their lives. An admirer of Frame's novels since she was a teenager, Campion builds her film around a heroine who defies Hollywood
conventions; she's not beautiful or sexy or sophisticated, and her adventures are mostly intellectual. Originally shot on 16mm and 1-inch videotape as a 3-part miniseries for Australian TV, then re-edited for 35mm theatrical release, the film doesn't look like a TV movie, except perhaps in the
intimacy of its subject.
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