Film:- Holy Smoke
Release Date:- 1999
Writer & Director:- Jane Campion
Purchased from:- Amazon
I first watched Holy Smoke as a VHS Rental and being a fan of Harvey Keitel and Jane Campions work. I was intrigued regarding the Film, which features Kate Winslet fresh from her Titanic fame.
The film steadily guides the viewer through a journey between sex and religion using inner emotions and their outward manifestation via Kate Winslet's character Ruth, who is a vivacious, emotionally intelligent and restless character whose stagnant and stereotypical life in the Australian suburbs has not been able to fulfill her inner need for expression and her vivacious appetite for Drama. The fluctuations and inner workings of Ruth's Character are set against a backdrop which encompasses the bleak, stark Australian wilderness and a vibrant, colorful, mystical India.
Ruth travels to India with a friend and almost immediately succumbs to the vibrancy and spirituality of India. She visit's a Guru and experiences an awakening which propels her towards an obsessive desire to follow the teachings of the Guru and embody the teachings and following the doctrine by living in an Ashram and relinquishing all material attachments, Ruth's mother becomes aware of Ruth's dramatic lifestyle change by a visit from Ruth's travelling friend who returned to Australia bewildered and concerned by her friends dramatic change of heart. Ruth's mother is immediately concerned and returns to Australia and instantly seeks the assistance of a trained "Cult Exit specialist" PJ Waters played by Harvey Keitel who de-programmes vulnerable people who have fallen victim to cult mentality.
The strategy between Ruth's dysfunctional family and PJ Waters commences, they decide to entrap Ruth into coming home via a faked terminal illness which Ruth's Father pretends to have been diagnosed with, and Ruth's mother embarks upon a journey to India to convince Ruth to come home. Ruth generates further concern by adopting the karmic mentality of "what will be, will be" and expresses her sadness that her father is potentially passing over to the other site but confirms her beliefs that this is part of the cycle of Life and Death, Ruth's mother alarmed by Ruth's stance of Non attachment convinces Ruth to come home and say her final goodbyes.
Cue... Ruth's return to Australia and a dramatic intervention by her family which results in Ruth being isolated in a shack with PJ Waters as he tries to de-programme Ruth.
The film engages the viewer through synchronizing the visual backdrop of Australia and India to reflect the marked differences within Ruth's inner psyche. In Australia Ruth's temperament is as stark and barren as the wild outback with which Ruth finds herself growing up within, we learn about Ruth's vibrant spirit and need for guidance from her visit to India through the visual journey that Ruth embarks upon. Beautiful hued sunsets enable the viewer to feel the warmth and light that has found its way into Ruth's life in India. The scenes with Ruth and her Mother in India are set in a dilapidated ashram with poor sanitation of which Ruth is oblivious and her Mother is ever increasingly conscious of. Ruth's defiant attitude and desperate emotional need to cling onto the spiritual enlightenment that's she feels is at one with the surroundings and the viewer is guided towards this path via the stark contrast between Ruth and her mother's perceptions.
Ruth's return home leads her to PJ Waters and I feel this is where the key themes of Sex and Religion are expertly expressed and subtly entwined within the film. I am wary of giving away too much of the plot and therefore am conscious of not exposing the plot of the film and as such will only go into minor detail regarding the rest of the film.
The dialogue and visual backdrop weave seamlessly together to convey the interplay between Ruth and PJ Waters. The interplay between the two lead characters presents the viewer with the opportunity to empathize with both religious viewpoints and the subsequent physical and emotional expressions from the two characters.
I found the film completely and utterly enchanting and a very honest depiction of the emotional discovery of two people with conflicting beliefs who become lost when their dogmatic stance is torn apart. I also found that the film expertly played with the concept of right and wrong leading the viewer into a multi faceted dance of emotions and belief structures via the characters and their journey.
I would wholeheartedly recommend the film and personally found that upon reflection Jane Campion engaged the viewer and confused the viewer simultaneously and lead the viewer through a visually compelling and thorough provoking journey which wasn't afraid to challenge our perceptions of freedom and enlightenment and left the viewer with a complex set of emotional theories and juxtaposition of roles with which to ponder. The film weaves a tapestry of rich sub contexts using visual and dialogue based threads to create a dramatic portrait which engages and enlightens the viewer at every stage.
The acting by the two main characters is of a consistently high standard and I feel that in the latter stages of the film when the film is centered around the interaction between the characters is when the strength of Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel's chemistry and acting skills really come into focus. The Supporting cast comprises Ruth's family and PJ Waters wife and again the acting is of a high standard.
Overall Value for money:- I feel that the DVD is reasonably priced and good value for the money.
This was a film that should have been so much better, it almost brings tears to my eyes. (Or that could be the smoke.) Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslett are usually almost beyond reproach and together, well, it should have been nothing short of a miracle. However, for no reasons I could really lay my finger on, this was disasterous. It's bizarre. I liked Keitel's gruff de-brainwasher, I liked Winslett as a cult obsessed hippie ozzie, I thought the psychadelic scenes as she became caught up in the moment were great fun, but I was bored, bored, bored and I just couldn't wait for the thing to end. The basic story is as follows: Young, impressionable, bohemian ozzie Ruth (Winslet) is travelling in India, when she becomes overwhelmed with religious fervour after meeting a charismatic cult leader. Back in Australia, her parents PJ Waters (Keitel), a famous "cult deprogrammer" to get her back. It turns out that this task isn't as easy as Waters expects, and the resulting sexual tension as Ruth puts up an unexpectedly spirited fight brings the film towards crisis point. Considering that this film was created by the excellent Jane Campion, whose CV includes such gems as "The Piano" and "The Portrait of a Lady", how could such an interesting concept fail to impress? How indeed. I'm always extra harsh on a film that disappoints me when I was expecting something outstanding, so here goes. Even though I got a free copy of this to review, it was still a waste of money, in that the time spent watching it could have been used much more profitably. This really isn't something you want to watch unless it's on TV and you have absolutely nothing better to do and no social life whatsoever. And that includes trimming your toenails.
Given the combination of Jane Campion and Harvey Keitel I had high hopes for this film. Higher too because the subject - deprogramming individuals who have become involved in cults - is extremely interesting, not to say controversial. Unfortunately the film hardly addressed any of the issues that might have arisen. Instead it seemed to veer from comedy to drama and back to comedy again, never quite sure of what it wanted to be. Briefly, the story revolves around a young Aussie woman (Kate Winslett) who falls under the spell of a guru while travelling through India. Her family want her back, so they enlist the help of the world's top 'de-programmer' in the shape of Harvey Keitel. Once they trick the girl back to Australia all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately rather than treat this seriously, with all its potential for drama, the film treats the whole thing as a bit of a joke. We get treated to some unfunny jokes, some slapstick and a few token bizarre images. What there is in the way of story is focused on the sexual relationship between Keitel and Winslett. Who falls for who? You can guess, it isn't much of a surprise. The filmatography was good, with the Aussie backdrop providing the kind of vivid colurs one associates with David Lynch. And there were some nice touches, but at the end of the day the film wasn't the one I had been looking for. I suppose I had been expecting something closer in spirit to The Piano. Still, if you ever want to see Harvey Keitel in a dress then this is the film for you.
In Holy Smoke Jane Campion gave cults and religion the same treatment Van Damme might give to nuclear physics. Coming from the director of “Piano” and “The portrait of a Lady” this is a truly astounding feat. Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet, good as always in a wasted role), goes to India with her best friend and finds enlightenment with one of the local ‘babas ‘ (shown graphically in an only impressive scene in the movie, as an opening of a third eye on her forehead). Her movie-style middle-class Australian family (complete with ugly 70’s furniture, lost anachronistic mama, philandering dead and half witted brothers), alarmed by the possibility of losing Ruth to the unknown, trick her back home by fake news of her father’s impending death and send her off to an isolated shack in a desert with the best ‘cult deprogrammer’ available - PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel, a personification of sleaze). Waters, an ageing American playboy has a tested 3-day intensive deprogramming session with an unprecedented success rate. It consists mainly of taking away the ‘patient’s’ ‘cult’ clothes and throwing abuses at his chosen cult leader. After a day of this, Ruth shows apparent signs of being ‘cured’, which manifest themselves mainly by walking around naked a lot and wanting to shag with everything in sight. However, when an instantly enamoured PJ tries to check his behaviour she turns the tables on him, trying to escape and eventualy dressing him in a red evening gown (obviously on hand in desert shack) and smearing him with some lipstick. By this point Ruth’s family very much wishes that they never had anything to do with Waters, however ultimately it proves to be a life changing experience to all sides, as Ruth goes back to India with her mom and Waters returns to his long suffering partner. In a film which so obviously favours Indian babas over the numbed subu
rban existence, its amazing what little information is on offer about Ruth’s newly found spirituality (apart from endless references to the baba being ‘pure love’). Waters attempts at deprogramming seem equally simplistic, especially considering he is as horny as hell and enjoys filatio with Ruth’s sister in-law and some steamy sex with her within the first hour of the movie, making his claims of professionalism more than dubious (although definitely showing an enjoyable way of earning 10 grand). Ruth’s destabilising of Water’s defences seem to come exclusively from her sexuality (especially the unsettling ‘peeing naked’ scene), which again doesn’t bring any scores to the Indian mysticism. And the gender bending finale which is totally disconnected from the rest of the movie, is needlessly cruel, with totally obsessed Waters stuttering after the escaping Ruth wearing lipstick, a mini-dress and one cowboy boot. All in all it’s sad to see a very competent director coming up with a movie filled with two dimensioned cartoons, turning a potentially interesting story into a sporadically funny farce which doesn’t shed any new light on any of the subjects it attempts to tackle.
New Zealand film director Jane Campion is one of a kind. Forget money and fame; she's inspired by the pleasure of sharing her cinematic dreams with friends and film audiences. Her globetrotting heroines (in such films as Angel at My Table, The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady) may be wilful, crazed, self-absorbed, wrong--but who can resist joining these passionate women on their voyages of self-discovery, whether they lead to safe harbour or a dead end? Holy Smoke opens deliriously in a magical India, saturated with light, colour, sensuality. Celebrated by Neil Diamond's opening anthem, "Holly Holy", Ruth Baron (Kate Winslet, delivering a breathtakingly luminous performance) explores a world that encourages spiritual epiphany--and falls hard for the cartoonish guru who opens her "third eye". Back home in Australia, her hilariously dysfunctional, distinctly down-to-earth family hires hotshot deprogrammer PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel, his dyed hair and cowboy boots telegraphing desperate machismo) to cure Ruth. In an isolated Outback shack, the two of them wrestle each other for control of their souls--and bodies, too. This duel's in deadly earnest: Ruth assaults Waters's petrified masculinity; PJ aims to strip this radiant girl of her unexamined faith. Their wild ride--funny, brutal, erotic--towards brand-new selfhood is punctuated by indelible images: Ruth dancing in a white sari beside an emu corral; naked in the night, Ruth offering her lush body to her tormentor; lost in the desert, cross-dressed in red gown, PJ "saved" by a golden vision of Ruth as a magnificent Indian goddess. For those who love the way movies can sometimes project truth and beauty, Holy Smoke is a feast for the eyes and mind. --Kathleen Murphy, Amazon.com On the DVD: Holy Smoke sees good overall quality of the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, with the graininess coming from the film rather than the transfer. The soundtrack (which is mostly populated with Neil Diamond tracks) is rich, but what really raises this DVD above mediocrity though (and it had to be something seeing as it is woefully short of extras) is the commentary track. Winslet and cowriter Anna Campion (Jane's sister) are given free reign to talk about their experiences of filming Holy Smoke as well as their thoughts on India, cults and nudity. The result is always interesting, often entertaining and fans of Winslet will fall in love with the graceful star all over again. --Kristen Bowditch