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Holy Smoke

Rated [R], 116 minutes
Starring Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel
Screenplay by Jane Campion and Anna Campion
Directed by Jane Campion

A trip to India with a friend leads impressionable young Australian, Ruth Baron (Kate Winslet), into the clutches of a religious cult leader. At least, that's how her family sees it. So distraught are they at Ruth's theosphical wanderings that her mother Miriam (Julie Hamilton) follows her kidlet to the subcontinent and lures her home, where "cult exiter" P. J. Waters (Harvey Keitel) is waiting. What follows is a two actor battle of the minds with Keitel, as he did in director Jane Campion's The Piano, delivering a character that twists in ways you'll never see coming. Unlike Winslet's last Stranger in a Cult land flick, Hideous Kinky, this one has a story deep enough to keep everything interesting, yet delivers it in such a lightweight style that popcorn munchers won't be unhappy. Cranky caught this flick during its one week qualifying run back in December, enjoyed it and promptly forgot it. Thus the rental level rating. For a more detailed look, we toss the review over to our Paul Fischer:

It's easy to understand why Jane Campion's latest film has become so divisive. Critics are intent on taking her latest film oh so seriously. When it comes down to it, Holy Smoke is an irreverent comment on sexual politics and power, and at last, Campion has decided not to take herself -- or her visions too seriously. This is a far more interesting and original work than her previous two films, and like The Piano, it's likely to cause considerable comment. While Piano seemed to be such an alienating experience, Campion and her co-writer on this, sister Anna, have scripted a piece complete with a self-deprecating sense of humour. While they don't parody some of the film's important elements by any means, they certainly treat much of its spirituality, for instance, with a deft degree of slyness.

Perhaps being older and wiser have made Campion a more interesting storyteller, and Holy Smoke invites us back to the world of Sweetie, but with even more depth and visual flair that was apparent with that breakthrough film. To begin with, on a purely visual level, Holy Smoke is the year's richest work, a sublime conglomeration of vivid colours, which beautifully represent the divided cultures that Campion strikingly explores. The stark browns of the harsh Australian desert are a counterpoint to the idealistic brightness of India, which opens the film. Director of photography Dion Beebe has encapsulated so perfectly the diversity of Campion's vision. It's an exquisitely textured film, and cinematically, Campion's most mature work. At the same time, as visually hypnotic as the film is, that aspect of Holy Smoke doesn't detract from her detailed sense of character and theme.

The film is intrinsically a two-hander, and Campion's skilful casting of Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, ensures that her comment on sexual power is compelling. And it is. The characters are both fascinating to watch and listen, and what one sees is never what one gets, which makes Holy Smoke a persuasive film to sit through. The film's exploration of sexuality and the role of men and women become both sexy and funny, erotic and intense, and always intriguing. These aspects of the film are in stark contrast to Campion's droll satire of Australian suburbia and the nature of family, themes she initiated with Sweetie. Winslet gives her best performance to date here. At times tough, fragile, sexual, uncompromising and bold, she is totally absorbing as a young woman in search of herself and her identity. As an Australian character, the actress fits into the mould like a glove, and never fails to convince us that she's an Aussie. Keitel is always memorable, and here, he delivers another remarkable, audacious and unexpectedly moving, performance. In lesser but fun roles, the delightfully effervescent Sophie Lee once again delivers the comedic goods as a frustrated housewife, who fantasises about making love to film stars, while as the parents, Julie Hamilton and Tim Robertson are sublime. As quintessentially Australian as elements of Holy Smoke is, the film is her most accessible. With a ferocious humour and dramatic intensity rarely seen, this is Campion's most engaging, most human and most deliciously entertaining film to date. It may be confronting at times, but don't take the director's vision too seriously; then you'll enjoy the ride. - Paul Fischer

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Holy Smoke, he would have paid...


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