An Angel at My Table | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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An Angel at My Table

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Jane Campion's stirring follow-up to Sweetie adapts the autobiographical trilogy of New Zealand writer Janet Frame into a 163-minute feature, originally made for New Zealand TV--clearly a labor of love by a masterful talent responding to a soulmate. The poetic empathy, the beautiful, offbeat framing and unexpected transitions, and the magnificent handling of actors are all pure Campion. (Her work is especially impressive with the three who play Frame at different ages--Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, and Kerry Fox--whose suggestions of fragility, painful shyness, and passionate inner life effortlessly dovetail into one another.) On the other hand, the form--a miniseries about the formation of a writer--is a lot more conventional and straightforward than that of Sweetie, as are the script (by High Tide's Laura Jones) and cinematography (by Stuart Dryburgh). Basically composed of short, elliptical scenes, this work's three parts were intended to be seen separately, which a theatrical presentation regrettably makes impractical. (In a better world, PBS would have snapped this up, but perhaps it would have been too glaring a contrast to the pallidness of its other dramatic offerings.) Charting Frame's life through the hell of being different (misdiagnosed as schizophrenic during her teens, she was forced to submit to hundreds of shock treatments) toward some adult fulfillment, Campion makes this a genuinely inspirational story without a breath of sentimentality. No less remarkably, she has managed to convey a writer's sensibility by getting us to share in a life lived in and through words--no mean feat for such an intensely visual director (1990). (Fine Arts)

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