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  • Holy Smoke
    • Holy Smoke
    • Runtime:115 min
    • Release Date:2014-09-01 19:09:01
    • Director: Jane Campion
    • Genres: Comedy, Drama
    • Studio:
MOVIE REVIEW:Holy Smoke
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Young Australian woman from Sydney travels to India on vacation and
becomes transfixed by a love guru whose mere touch to her third-eye has
touched off something mystical inside of her. Naturally her family back
home is concerned, and once they pry her away from her new existence
(by falsely telling her that her father is dying), they set out trying
to reprogram her with help from another guru, a strutting and
self-confident American. Director Jane Campion (who also penned the
barbed, impertinent screenplay with Anna Campion) knows a great many
tricks to gain an audience's attention; by weaving a cinematic spell of
compelling visuals and canny soundtrack choices, coupled with a
languorous editing technique, Campion absorbs the viewer rapturously in
spite of the fact her characters aren't very interesting. Once that
initial spell wears off, indignation can set in (as it does here in the
exasperating final 20 minutes). Kate Winslet's brainwashed Ruth
actually seems a much nicer person back in India. Once she's been taken
out to a Halfway Hut in the Aussie desert to have her mind rearranged,
she turns into a vicious, sniping brat. I'm pretty sure Campion was
making a point here, but the audience is completely turned off by
Winslet's antics (plus a naked seduction scene that seems inserted
merely to shock). Harvey Keitel is the overage stud hoping to erase
Kate's religious spell, and predictably falls under one himself. Keitel
is a very appealing actor (and sexily comfortable in front of the
camera), and yet his character isn't warm, either. He's playing
daddy-teacher-lover to this girl, but there are no sparks between he
and Winslet…and no signs that she's getting any better via his
treatment. Campion's use of slow-motion is grueling, as are several of
her camera set-ups which bring an artiness to the project where such a
studied tone is not called for. The picture is a mess, albeit an
intensely watchable one. ** from ****

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In "Holy Smoke",we are shown how affluent western world perceives India
especially through its innumerable religions.Academy award nominee New
Zealand director Jane Campion steers her film by showcasing a harum-
scarum Australian family whose members make all possible attempts to
persuade one of their ilk to disown an Indian religious sect leader.Her
film is an attempt to unravel countless affable mysteries surrounding
numerous Indian religious men and women and their emotional,
intellectual or spiritual ramifications on prosperous westerners.Much
of the film centers around a dysfunctional middle class Australian
family which is facing tough times.Jane Campion errs occasionally as
her film contains some less developed themes involving spiritual
aspects versus material comfort and intricacies of mind over
body.However,all serious viewers can vouchsafe a good viewing
experience as perfect emotional as well as carnal chemistry between
Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet is a joy to behold.A weak and an
absolutely terrible ending are some of this film's major thorns.Holy
Smoke:one of those rare films where audiences will have tough time to
make out how and when a hunter becomes a hunted target ? Film
critic/French translator/interpreter Lalit Rao wishes to make a brief
yet necessary mention about some of his fiends involved with shooting
of "Holy Smoke" in India : a) Famous theater activist Rajneesh Bisht
(Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, amateur theater group) and
veteran media person Madame Uma Da Cunha.

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*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a review of the film from a column I wrote in a lifestyle
magazine in 2000.

As a staple of our dating and weekend ritual, dinner and a movie is a
well-entrenched institution. As a lover of both fine food and good
cinema, I would like to offer la cocinita's well-fed readers a monthly
pick from the recent releases on video. Keep in mind: my set of tastes
isn't always entirely rational. While I have a penchant for upsetting,
aggressive movies such as Hate and Natural Born Killers, I can also
enjoy the subtlety of films like Dead Man or Wings of Desire. More
often than not, I am drawn to thought provoking films no matter how
much they try my patience or wrench my stomach. But then to spite
myself, I'll fall in love with Starship Troopers. Go figure.

This month, I turn your attention to the latest drama from Jane
Campion, Holy Smoke, starring Kate Winslet (Titanic, Heavenly
Creatures) and Harvey Keitel (The Bad Lieutenant, Mean Streets). (Pam
Grier (Jackie Brown, Foxy Brown) gets third billing, but don't hold
your breath or blink if her name drew you to the movie.) The movie
opens in India where the young, beautiful and impressionable Ruth (Kate
Winslet) and her Aussie friend are on vacation. Amongst the bustle of
an overcrowded, smoke-filled plaza, Ruth notices other white girls
dressed in saris, giggling and appearing to fit into these foreign and
mystical surroundings.

At this point I lost valuable screen time attempting to divine the
meaning of the Neil Diamond tune playing over the images of ex-patriot
hippies writhing on a rooftop in India, but soon I was pulled back to
the rest of the plot's setup: Ruth finds herself literally touched by a
guru and believes that he has shown her the way to enlightenment. Her
family, of course, believes she has been drugged or swindled into the
starry notions the guru has fed her. They hire PJ Waters (Harvey
Keitel) to rid her of the influence of the alleged cult leader. As PJ
trains his will on Ruth to break her of her "false" mysticism, we are
brought into intimate contact with Ruth's unresolved issues from a
childhood crying for communication and nurturing.

What follows is a well-acted tete-a-tete between the troubled Ruth and
PJ's macho American caricature as they explore each other and
themselves. This is the meaty section of the film where PJ
systematically strips Ruth of her belongings, both physical and mental,
that have anything to do with her India experience. In this process,
the tables become turned as he is forced to look at himself in the
mirror. At the finish line, Ruth's romantic notions are all but dead
and PJ winds up in the middle of the desert wearing a dress and red
lipstick. Who won the war of the wills? You be the judge.

Holy Smoke is written by Jane Campion and her sister Anna and explores
issues of a large dysfunctional suburban family and coercive,
overbearing father figures. In other words, this is classic Campion.
These have been common themes in Jane's previous work in one strain or
another, and now her sister is getting in the same bed, if you will.
Jane started exploring these issues in the mid 80's in her short films
"Peel," "A Girl's Own Story," and "Passionless Moments," and continued
the thread with her features Sweetie and The Piano. In Holy Smoke, the
Campion sisters dive head-first into the burning cauldron of sexual
politics between a young woman searching for meaning and an adult
well-entrenched in his beliefs. As in other Campion films, this films
attempts to pull into focus the psycho-sexual nature of male-female
relationships, especially young women's relationships with father
figures. On one level the film seems to say that male domination is
arousing, and on the other hand its message seems to be that a little T
& A can go a long to making a man submissive. While Campion's themes
have a tendency to bewilder, I found Holy Smoke to succeed where some
of her other films may have not, largely due to Kate Winslet's
character and the strong performances by the rest of the cast, as well
as the enchanting, warm cinematography (Dion Beebe) throughout the
film.

A collection of Campion's shorts are available on the compilation
titled (thought-provokingly enough) Jane Campion Shorts. If you find
yourself attracted to Jane's present work, I recommend viewing her
shorts, especially since it is uncommon to find most filmmaker's early
work on tape. By the way, both "Peel" and The Piano won a Palm d'Or at
Cannes, which just so happens to be the biggest gold star a filmmaker
can ever receive.

With Holy Smoke, Jane Campion has made another interesting piece of
cinema. But beware, this is no light fodder. The film covers some
fairly heavy territory that could well make you take a second look at
yourself and the sordid relationship with your family that you would
rather stick in a dark place. Nonetheless, if you would rather lay back
and take in the beautiful backdrops of India and Australia, this is a
fine film as well.

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