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"It's such a sad old feeling, the fields are soft and green, it's
memories that I'm stealing, but you're innocent when you dream, when
you dream, you're innocent when you dream" ---Tom Waits
Smoke is a very difficult film to describe because it does not unfold with a coherent narrative, but rather with slice-of-life vignettes about chance, communication, and inter-connectedness. Author Paul Auster and director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) worked on the story for years before it reached the screen and the collaboration produces a highly literate, novelistic cinema that is divided into separate chapters, each elaborating a different character. I have seen this small masterpiece many times, but I keep watching it because I love its celebration of the simple pleasures of life: friendships, good conversation, and, of course, smoking a good cigar. Smoke is not a complex or experimental film, just a beautiful and simple delineation of humanity.
Harvey Keitel plays Auggie Wren, the owner of a small cigar store in Brooklyn. An amateur photographer as well as a raconteur of tall tales, Auggie has taken one photograph a day from the street corner outside his store every day for the past 14 years. "People say you have to travel to see the world,'' Auggie says. "Sometimes I think that if you just stay in one place and keep your eyes open, you're going to see just about all that you can handle.'' When a friend comments that all the snapshots look alike, Auggie points out the differences: the light, the season, and the look on people's faces. It's all a matter of slowing down, Auggie says, being in present time, and observing what is in front of you.
One of the store's regular customers is writer Paul Benjamin (William Hurt) who hasn't published a novel since his wife died a few years ago in an incident of street violence. When a young Black man, Rashid Cole, (Harold Perrineau Jr.) saves Paul's life by pulling him away from on an oncoming car, Paul offers him a place to sleep. The lives of the two become intertwined in the young man's encounter with some robbers and in his search for his father, brilliantly played by Forrest Whitaker. When Auggie's former lover, Ruby (Stockard Channing), shows up, she tells Auggie he has a pregnant daughter (Ashley Judd) that now needs his help. These incidents come together in a powerful, fully realized conclusion.
Although Smoke has its moments of high drama, it is mostly a low-key, slice-of-life type of film that depicts events in life as happening for a purpose, not as random or chance occurrences. The characters are not "movie colorful", but ordinary down-to-earth people brought to realization by a flawless ensemble cast. The film reaches a sublime conclusion in a tender Christmas story narrated by Keitel and supported by Tom Waits' haunting song "Innocent When You Dream". Everyone ends up in a better place than when they started, including myself as viewer.
I cannot begin to convey the intellectual and spiritual riches of this exquisite, almost transcendental film. I have rarely seen a motion picture with better acting or a more literate, insightful script.Harvey Keitel, John Hurt, Stockard Channing, Ashley Judd, Forrest Whittaker, and all the other players contribute some of their finest performances.The film itself ends with a "Christmas story' which conveys more of the religious-and humanist-meaning of that holiday than a thousand scmaltzy TV specials.Watch this movie, watch it carefully. Rarely has the beauty and sublimity concealed behind the facade of quotidian existence been better conveyed in a film.
Every once in a while, a film comes down the pike that is so refreshing, so
rich, you'd swear it was inspired by some immortal spirit who condescended
to take human form in order to share her perspective with us. Smoke is one
Although there's nothing particularly special about each of several main characters, seemingly picked at random off of a New York street corner, they come off as noble, even heroic, in spite of the fact that their collective problems amount to nothing more than the usual garden variety. The main character, for example (Auggie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel) is a tobacconist around whose shop the main characters revolve. He has an unusual habit: every morning, at the same time of the day, he photographs the same street corner, and puts the pictures together in a series of albums. It's time-lapse photography on an enormous scale. He can't explain why he does it. He just needs to do it. And it's a really marvelous device for delivering the movie's main theme: everything that matters, all the meaning in the world that can be condensed from holy books and vows and catechisms and poems, is right there before us. We just need to have the eyes to see it. The things we tend to dismiss as prosaic, out of familiarity, emerge from the pages of his album as special, wonderful, enchanted.
There's a great line in the movie about how Sir Walter Raleigh measured the weight of smoke. He took a cigar, weighed it, smoked it, and weighed the ash. The difference between the cigar and the ash was the weight of the smoke. Although he new nothing of the chemistry of combustion, he did the best that he could, based upon what he knew. Likewise, Smoke is a movie about people with limited knowledge and perspective. Their assumptions are often wrong; but, they do the best that they can. A small, seemingly insignificant piece of information can, and does, change everything.
The characters are genuine, funny, sensitive, tragic... just human.
They are sympathetic with their small weaknesses and their daily
problems. The movie gives a realistic description of the daily life of
ordinary people in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn has the star role. In fact the movie seems like a declaration of love to this city, although when compared to Woody Allen's "Manhattan", the approach is completely different.
The message is in a way surprising (maybe because of my European bias): Even in this money driven, rough, fast living, time-is-money, urban and individualistic environment there is a lot of love, friendship and humanity. Humanity means also that we do things which eventually do not make very much sense, are not logical and which may be very emotional. Smoking belongs to such activities. It is an activity which needs a work break. It gives us an opportunity for a stop and for starting rethinking issues. Therefore the small cigar shop, which appears like an island within a stormy ocean, like the antipode to the bustle environment.
Sometimes some of the hurry enters the shop, but the clocks seem to tick differently there and at the end everything calms down. I like this movie.
After I read the comments for Smoke, I was fascinated by the power of
cinema while I realized that most of the people felt the same things as
I did when they watched the movie. I watched Smoke several times
without getting bored and still I sometimes watch some scenes. The
characters are so real and the dialogs are so natural that I feel like
I meet my friends or a part of my family when I watch it. I feel like
if I went to Brooklyn, I would find that tobacco shop with Auggie
sitting at the desk, chatting with others.
The beautiful scenes are also unforgettable The first scene where Paul tells about the weight of smoke The scene where Auggie says that the light, season and people are different in the photos that he takes every day I also love the end, where Auggie tells the Christmas story to Paul and the white-black scene with the song of Tom Waits.
When you watch the movie, you understand that it is just the little things - a chat with your friend, a moment of happiness, a Christmas story told at lunch, a photo- and the feelings in life that matters. That's why maybe we feel so happy and relaxed when we watch the movie: We forget about the daily stress and want to be a part of Auggie Wren's world.
I'll try to make this short and sweet. This is simply one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. Even the credits can't be missed. Harvey Keitel and William Hurt are just unbelievable. Ashley Judd makes you want to kill her. There are so many gems in this movie you would think it came from a South African diamond mine. This is NOT to be missed. It's sort of a non-linear Quentin Tarantino format without the violence. Several great stories spun by a master. Two words: SEE IT.
SMOKE is a beautiful movie about nothing at all and at the same time about
I don´t even know how to describe it to someone, i guess it´s
It´s one of those rare movies that it has to be felt. If you don´t feel it,
then you are missing the whole point.
SMOKE is one of those rare movies which we don´t know how to recommend this
our friends, because it´s so original and simple that there is nothing to
describe. Anything we might say ,it only will give the illusion this is an
shallow or boring movie.
SMOKE is not an adventure, not a drama, not a comedy, not a cops movie, not
an action movie, so what it´s about ?!!
It´s about life.
But in a real way, and surprisingly not boring.
This movie is very similar to Luc Besson´s - Le Gran Bleu (The Big Blue). The story it has nothing to do with it, but it´s a movie to also be felt.
This is an actors movie, and they all do an incredible job. Sometimes they make us want to go to New York and go talk with them. Then we remember that they are not real, and we wished they were. Harvey Keitel and William Hurt are perfect in their characters and it´s a joy to watch them act. The movie could be only both of them talking to to each other, that it would still be a great and not boring movie.
This is a very well writen, acted and directed script, and we don´t find many of this everyday. And it has a fantastic soundtrack also that fits perfectly in the story. The final scenes with a Tom Waits song are realy poetic. The music almost becomes a character in the movie.
Beautiful, beautiful movie. Unmissable !
By the way, if you can, watch the "sequel" also, because it´s as good as the original. It´s called "Blue in the face". Don´t miss it.
SMOKE is a magnificent movie.
Finally, a movie that relies more on simple, character-driven plot than
action. Though some scenes might prove sentimental,
"Smoke" was a wonderful film filled with thought provoking dialogue, and a
good story, which is all so seldomly seen these days. No one else could of
played Auggie; Harvey Kietel was made for that role. Another brilliant
conversation piece from Wayne Wang.
Only criticism: Ashley Judd didn't belong in the role as the estranged daughter, and the video box is very, very, misleading.
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.
This is one of the most awe inspiring movies that i have seen *EVER*. At the time of watching I was getting very bored with the standard fare Hollywood was churning out and bought this movie on a hunch after having seen an interview with 'Wayne Wang' or Paul Auster (can't remember which now!)...it totally hit me and restored my faith in film making, especially in the plain and (deceptively) simple style. The best bits of the film have to be the tale at the end, and the photograph albums. What is it?...'Everyone needs a hobby.' This is an exceptional movie, take a break from your hectic life and let the Smoke waft over you! (I should write tag-lines!! ;-) )
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