The plot of this movie, like smoke itself, drifts and swirls ethereally. Characters and subplots are deftly woven into a tapestry of stories and pictures which only slowly emerges to our view. This film tries to convince us that reality doesn't matter so much as aesthetic satisfaction. In Auggie's New York smoke shop, day by day passes, seemingly unchanging until he teaches us to notice the little details of life. Paul Benjamin, a disheartened and broken writer, has a brush with death that is pivotal and sets up an unlikely series of events that afford him a novel glimpse into the life on the street which he saw, but did not truly perceive, every day. Finally, it's Auggie's turn to spin a tale.... Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Auggie takes his daily picture from a typical tripod, below shoulder level. Yet the photos in his album are taken from eye-level position or higher. In fact, the alignment of the traffic signal and the building behind it is so consistent from picture to picture, that they were most likely taken from a fixed mount. See more »
Wayne Wang's "Smoke" is one of those perfect little movies that knows not to aim any higher than it needs to. Like Mike Leigh's "Life is Sweet" a few years back, it closely observes the day-to-day lives of a handful of people, in this case the patrons of and workers in a Brooklyn cigar shop, and leaves it at that. Don't expect The Moral to come creeping into the dialogue; the fact that the lives of Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel, in another example of why he's the best actor working today) and his friends are compelling IS the point. Writer Paul Auster, basing his script on his op-ed story in The New York Times, keeps on chugging out smartly-written people even up to the seventh and eighth character. It's a rare treat to have an ensemble movie in which there isn't a single weak performance, and even rarer to have one supported by writing and directing that are up to the task. All of these elements come together come together in "Smoke," an artful story about the art of storytelling.
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