AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE
DIRECTOR: JANE CAMPION
COUNTRY: NEW ZEALAND 1989
CINEMATOGRAPHY: STUART DRYBURGH
WRITTEN BY: JANE CAMPION based on Janet Frame's diaries
CAST: Kerry Fox (Jane), Alexia Keogh (young Jane), Erin Churn (mom), K. J. wilson (dad)
SUPER FEATURES: Story of a New Zealand's writer's efforts.
The life and times of people who have made it into the world of the arts is not always a pleasant story. But it does make one heck of a
Janet Frame was born with a bit of an unstable mind, or so everyone thought around her. She is placed in various schools and eventually
is treated for being a schizophrenic person, something which she has to fight all her life. But as she gets older, and wiser, she discovers that she is capable of writing, and exciting people with her style. The problem is that no one around her accepts her ability as something worthy of anything except another of her tirades in what is considered unstable mind. She is placed in various mental institutions and barely escapes the ultimate punishment of a lobotomy.
But to her credit, along the way she manages to get something written and published. Which helps her cause... except that her capacity to believe in herself and abilities is lagging far behind. And with the help of a couple of therapists, she manages to get herself a writer's grant and spend some time traveling and preparing for another piece of work. This takes her to England, where she is able to get a couple of pieces published, until one publisher makes a comment that she needs something that sells, not another bunch of words on paper. She takes of for a sea side resort in Spain where her abilities flourish, thanks in part to an affair with an American artist, who is also trying to escape the personal
assaults from family and friends.
And from here on, Janet Frame becomes a writer, and although (today) she is not considered famous and major, her work has place countries like New Zealand on the map of the arts. But the price one has to pay to get this far, is often too harsh. Janet barely made it through
the cracks of the world in one piece.
And Jane Campion, found a person who could help. She made a film about this writer, no doubt to also illustrate her frustration at not being able to direct film in a man's world. She succeeds.
This is an excellent film, if not a bit long, but lovingly directed and caring, about what it means to be a person that has visions and desires which are not common, or related to personal belongings beyond those in words on a piece of paper, in this case, as the only means to survival.
Kerry Fox is just a treat to watch as Janet. An acting job that deserves much more than it ever got, which was no mention, and ignored. And the director treats the material with such a nerve that leaves us realizing how important it is to accept a person's desire to see and express feelings, specially those which are considered artistic, or literary in this example.
AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE is really a sad film, and like THE PIANO done much later, it is one that leads to a satisfying conclusion. Janet
suffered, but she will be remembered, and she knows it. And Jane made sure that her literature was known, much later. She's not a major writer, but she was a person that was nearly destroyed by a society enamored with destruction, not life.
A must see for anyone that writes, as an exercise that futility is never around the corner no matter how bad things can be. And without much fuss, this film happens to be a stand on the merit and value of woman writers in a world that tends to disregard them. In one scene a publisher wants her to create a pen name of a man... now that's liberation come a long way. And a merit worth having earned, not only for Janet Frame, but many women writers and artists, not to mention Jane Campion.
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