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Smoked Poison
Chrysanthepop30 December 2008
Jane Campion takes us to dark territory again in 'Holy Smoke' but this time with a touch of comedy. I am surprised at the negative response so many have claiming that it is anti-feminist blah blah blah or that it is a comedy with no substance. On the contrary, I find 'Holy Smoke' to be a provocative piece full of substance.

The refreshing novel concept is pretty daring and Campion balances both dark humour and intensity. She tackles various relevant themes such as respect and care within the family (the mother is the only one who seems to be concerned about what happened to her daughter in India while the father is totally indifferent), sexual manipulation, spirituality vs brainwash, power control and so on. The viewer is totally absorbed on how the de-programmer 'saves' Ruth but things take unexpected turns and we start questioning who exactly this PJ Waters is. The relationship between PJ and Ruth gradually becomes reminiscent of that between Lolita and Humbert (from Kubrick's 'Lolita'). The dysfunctional family is portrayed in a funny light but the characters's (especially the women's) despair and struggle is evident such as Mom being concerned about her daughter and Yvonne who is unhappy with her sex life. Campion, with the help of the actors, creates this whole mysterious atmosphere through the characters. We are given some nice glimpses of the isolated dry Australian landscape.

The performances are terrific. Kate Winslet, even though occasionally switches back to her own British accent, acts phenomenally. She already made a brave choice by choosing such a risky role and the actress just shows how comfortable she is in the skin of her character and mesmerizes the viewer. Harvey Keitel does nothing short of a fine job but he is obviously overshadowed by Winslet. The supporting cast, especially Sophie Lee (as Ruth's desperate and sleazy sister-in-law) and Julie Hamilton (as the concerned and loving mother).

'Holy Smoke' is a well-made and brave film. Clearly it is not for everyone. There are very few movies that are both funny and thought-provoking. 'Holy Smoke' is one such captivating film.
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Things fall apart - spoiler contained
maggiebh19 October 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Be warned that this movie is nothing like the trailer (not a rare story, yet still). The trailer banks on the promise with which the movie starts, but this promise is completely squandered. If it hadn't left me feeling that so much was wasted (including my expectations and time) then I would score it a little higher, but it is a let-down.

I got geared up for a satisfying battle of the wills with strong sexual tension and witty comedy - uh, no. All the hopes you might have for this, entwined with the interesting topics of spiritual belief, family-love, -expectations and -narrowness, and cult deprogramming will be lost quickly. The characters RUSH into sex, and any real interesting issues are suddenly discarded. It just becomes a drawn out mess with 2 lost people clawing at each other and calling each other names. An older man becoming obsessed with a nubile young woman (for some reason she spends an awful lot of time hanging around in a bra) who taunts him with it. Where is his strength? We are supposed to believe that he has worked with 189 other vulnerable young people and his experience leads him to this pathetic breakdown of trust and decency so quickly? And what about the devotion she had for her belief? Gone. This could all be the source of a good dark film, if it was handled and explored well, but it isn't here, and this film doesn't make a good transition to it as a subject. It just left me feeling a bit lost and abused, having watched people being so rotten to one another to no good end (the wrap-up "we're OK now, and better for the experience" ending is just bogus). I got the sense that the filmmakers ran out of steam on this - that there were supposed to be many levels at work, but they just couldn't "keep it up." I saw this with two friends and we talked about it for a while afterwards, mainly because we were trying to salvage the unfulfilled promise of interesting topics opened in the beginning of the film. It left us feeling stranded, needing to talk about it in order to follow through on what the film didn't deliver. We also needed to just get the bad taste of the film out of our mouths.

I see from other viewer comments that people argue that it raises many issues - it does, but that doesn't make it a good film. It opens too many doors and then let's all the good stuff fly away. It's a shame, because the first part really seems to be the opening to a view of cult deprogramming, with Ruth's zany family as a background (that bunch of characters is wasted, which is too bad), and then it suddenly becomes about sex, desperation and nastiness, nothing clever. And the sex isn't even sexy - it's pathetic, desperate sex. Ick. Perhaps this movie is worth seeing, for the things that are brought up - but be aware that it doesn't come near to completing the journey with any of them, and that it is not as clever and funny as the trailer and the beginning would lead you to believe. Be prepared for the characters to fall apart, and to sit through a long period of people being just being mean and debased, until you just don't care about them at all anymore. All too bad - some very talented people were involved in this.
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Can Kate deprogram the deprogrammer?
Dennis Littrell15 March 2006
Kate Winslet plays Ruth Barron, a young Australian woman who goes to India and becomes smitten with the touch of a charismatic guru, so much so that she changes her name and forsakes her family to stay in India and attend to and worship the guru. Her parents become alarmed. Her mother goes to India to trick her into coming back to Australia so that she can be deprogrammed by a professional from the United States that they have hired (P.J. Waters as played by Harvey Keitel).

What director Jane Campion does with this once familiar theme is most interesting. She puts the deprogrammer to the test, so to speak, and initiates a struggle of will between the deprogrammer and his young charge. The key scene arrives as Ruth comes naked into P.J.'s arms in order to test his professionalism (and her sexual power). I don't know about you but I think a naked and passionate Kate Winslet would test any man's motivation and make him think twice about what he really wants to do.

The psychological idea behind the story is this question, What is the nature of the guru's hold on his flock? Is it spiritual or is it profane? Do the young women who follow him desire him as an alpha male or is it spiritual deliverance they seek? Naturally Ruth believes the latter and the deprogrammer the former. But what is the deprogammer's motivation? Is this just a job for him or does he feel he is helping to free his clients from some kind of mental slavery? Or is he just another sort of phony guru himself? Keitel in black hair and black moustache and devil's mini goatee dressed in black with a menacing look and a lot of physical energy (despite being 60-years-old when this film was released) contrasts sharply with Winslet's youthful beauty and beguiling voluptuousness. Strength of character is something Kate Winslet brings to any role, even including her outstanding performance as Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996), a role that is usually played wiltingly. Here one senses that her strong will and determination are going to be quite a match for the deprogrammer who gives himself three days alone with her to break her attachment to the guru.

Two questions: One, if he is successful, will that just mean that she has transferred her allegiance from the Indian guru to him? Will it mean that his psychological strength is greater than that of the guru in far-off India? Two, in what respect is such a forced confinement with someone who is in physical control going to lead to a variant of the "Stockholm syndrome" experienced by some women held hostage, e.g., flight attendants on hijacked planes, and the famous case of Patty Hearst? Will the captive become enamored of her captor? Campion handles this most interesting theme by focusing on the sexual and carnal nature of the relationships. The test of will between P.J. and Ruth becomes a question of Can she seduce him and thereby strip him of his professionalism? The movie is candid about sex and sexuality in a way that emphasizes the power dynamics of sexual relationships. There is some full frontal nudity and the sex scenes are steamy beyond what one usually sees in an R-rated film. (If seeing Kate Winslet naked might offend you, I recommend you close your eyes.) Harvey Keitel did an outstanding job in a very demanding role and was entirely convincing (despite being a little too old for the part); but as usual Kate Winslet completely took over the film with her commanding countenance, her superior acting skills, her great concentration and her mesmerizing charisma. If there is a better, more captivating young actress working today, I don't know who she is.

Her role here might be compared with her performance in Hideous Kinky (1998) in which she goes to Morocco to find enlightenment among the Sufis. That is a more charming film, and she is outstanding, but this one gives greater range to her skills.

Notable (and watchable!) as a counterpoint to Winslet's Ruth is sexy and sleazy Sophie Lee as Yvonne who is so taken with P.J. that she fairly begs him to make love to her. Also impressive is Julie Hamilton as the woebegone and stumbling mother.

Of course I would say see this for Kate Winslet, and if you are a fan, you sure don't want to miss Holy Smoke since it includes one of her best performances; however, what really impressed me is the original and daring conception and direction by Jane Campion who is best known for The Piano (1993), a film that received an Oscar nomination for the best direction and starred Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill.

So see this for Jane Campion who is not afraid to show human nature in the raw.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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Wildly creative, A+ for daring
ptclear9 March 2000
This film is highly misunderstood. Reading some of the reviews I found it hard to believe they were related to the film I'd just seen. This is so much more than a battle of the sexes, it covers lots of ground: boundary in therapy, the legitimacy of mystical experience, the complexities of family dysfunction, the ingenuity of the human spirit when heart and individuality are threatened. I regret that many viewers and reviews seem to have seen the humorous aspect of the film as an indication that the film's themes are lacking in substance. This is a worthy film. I regret that it's not getting its due.
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"Where there's fire, there's smoke"
danielll_rs25 June 2000
Bizarre. Fascinating. Flawed. Out of control. Definitely not ordinary. I can use all those expressions to show what I feel about "Holy Smoke", but I think they are not enough to express all my mixed feelings about it. This is not an easy film to watch and more difficult than that to review, but I can say that its qualities overcome the majority of its flaws.

"Holy Smoke" is a story about two totally different people. Ruth is a young Australian woman who travels to India and there starts to take part in a cult, getting fascinated with it. Her family starts to get worried about that and contracts PJ Waters, the other face of the coin, to make Ruth forgets her new beliefs and return to a normal life. They will spent some very unusual days in a hut on the desert, where we don't know who is in charge of the situation. Jane Campion writes and directs this weird and tense story with a wonderful passion. She tries to escape from all the clichés and succeeds in. There are some other stories of Ruth's weird family: her gay brother, her nymphomaniac sister-in-law, her ingenuous mother. This is the humorous part of the film, where you'll see even a sheep serving as a table at Ruth's house. But, strangely, "Holy Smoke" didn't feel as a dramatic comedy. It's one of those pictures that you can't define the genre with sure.

All the qualities and flaws of "Holy Smoke" come from the directing and the writing. There are some slow moments, exaggerated situations, some out of places scenes which could have been easily deleted. These are the main reasons why I didn't enjoy very much Jane Campion's earlier works: the overrated "The Piano" and the tasteless "The Portrait of a Lady". But here the flaws sometimes can be forgotten because Campion explains the story better than in her other works and succeeds in captivating the audience with an interesting story, discussing subjects as sex and religion with the right tone.

The one who really shines here is Kate Winslet. Harvey Keitel is great as always, but Ms. Winslet gives us an Oscar caliber performance. She doesn't have problem in appearing naked, sing, dress Keitel with a red dress and say what she thinks. I'm sure that her performance won't disappear in smoke, at least for me.

"Holy Smoke" was very criticized and snubbed, but it deserves a second chance. I agree that it is flawed and obviously not for everyone. But watch it with patience, pay attention at the subliminal messages, have some fun and think a little. It is worth the price of the ticket.
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Very good subject but the movie lacks depth
Pteromysvolans23 September 2004
The interesting and important themes dealt with make this movie well worth watching.

First you think that it will be a simple educational movie about cult addiction and recovery - but then the plot starts to get complicated. Maybe even a bit too complicated, because the end part of the movie feels rather artificial.

The story tells about very important and even universal things: meaning of life, feelings of emptiness, relationships of leaders and their pupils, human nature, need of love. But though those themes are thought provoking, the movie itself lacks a lot as a movie. I cannot help thinking that someone could have made this into a much better movie (shouldn't be the fault of the makers though, many of them have had good artistic achievements).

The persons lack enough depth. The truly complicated nature of people is not - after all - portraited realistically enough in this movie. Because of that you never start to take the movie seriously enough despite the many dead serious themes dealt with.

Very difficult movie to rate. In purely artistic sense, the movie: acting, directing, filming etc. is worth maybe 6/10, but because of the important thought provoking subject, I give it a much better 8/10.
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Holy Smoke deserves is 9.1 rating by filmunlimited readers
julia-492 April 2000
I chose to see Holy Smoke as I've yet to be disappointed by Jane Campion, Harvey Keitel or Kate Winslet. That hasn't changed. The Campion sisters have written a clever, funny and subtle story of how badly a family can bungle their response when their religion of choice is passed over by one of their own in favour of something they find a little too exotic and scary.

It has discreet moments of parody for observant viewers that shows up the shallowness of valuing one faith tradition over another. On the surface it's a hugely funny portrait of a hypocritical conservative family's farcical efforts to cling to normality when Winslet's character begins to branch out.

Look below the surface of the superb performances (especially Winslet and Keitel) and there are some wry observations about religious bigotry and parental disrespect. Winslet and Keitel bring their usual innate honesty and chutzpah to their roles, creating an intense sexual chemistry that is always under their total control.

While Winslet's is by far the most accurate Australian accent I've heard from a British actor, watch out for Sophie Lee, a very funny genuine article who I hope we'll see again soon. My only criticism is that Pam Grier was not allowed more involvement. I would have liked to have see her role developed far more.

Jane Campion's direction is refreshing as always. She gives us the intense, beautiful harshness of the vast Australian outback as well as zooming in on each character's frailties.

This film seems to have polarised opinions for some reason. Perhaps the subject matter has touched a few nerves or maybe some people have expected a different film. Go with an open mind and you may see the power and subtleties of this film.
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Interesting idea, flawed execution
bat-525 January 2000
Holy Smoke has two good performances from Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel. It also has some nice cinematography and some interesting visual tricks, but apart from that, the film is kind of a mixed bag. The story concerns Winslet's family trying to break her from the hold of a religious sect in India. Harvey Keitel is called in by the family to break Winslet and return her to her family. What follows is a three day odyssey that contains an odd transformation from both characters. I'm not sure how I felt after seeing the film, to tell the truth I'm still not sure what the film was saying.
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Crazy With A Core Message
Rodk14 August 2000
I was in Karlovy Vary in June, 2000 and needed a break from Czech so I went to see Holy Smoke at a 5 p.m. showing. The Kino Cas required a minimum of 8 people to buy tickets or they would not show the movie. The crowd numbered about 12. I enjoyed Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet's roles very much. Just when you think that you've met the most dysfunctional family in your personal experiences, here is one to top them all. Kate Winslet's family is in need of a "deprogrammer" to rescue their daughter from the clutches of Eastern Transcendentalism and they call on Harvey Keitel's character to get the job done. Some may find the movie silly but I thought it touched some real difficult issues faced by many. I was lost in thought during much of the film so I revisited the Cino Cas the following afternoon to see it again. It rated a 9 from my perspective. R Morris
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I've seen two movies in my life that were worse than this, and one of them was a porn.
sansmerci20 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers

I was forced to watch this movie for my Media Criticism and Theory Class. The film looked promising, a great director, two great lead actors who I respect immensely, and an interesting subject matter. The film quickly went downhill. The entire film is stylistically and structurally disjointed. The director didn't seem to know if she wanted to make the film realistic or not, so she just sort of goes into non-sequitor fantasy sequences at random points in the film, most of which just end up looking silly in an otherwise realistic looking film. The whole thing with Ruth's running off and joining a cult would have created more sympathy for her if there was ever any actual explanation as to what the cult was doing or proof that they were actually dangerous. This was never proved and, in fact, the entire religion actually comes off looking legitimate, especially with the fantasy shot in which the guru touches Ruth's forehead and a third eye opens up in her forehead, which suggests that this guru actually does have spiritual powers, which contradicts the rest of the film.

Not that this matters, however, as halfway through the film, the writers decided that the story was no longer about the cult and just made it about this weird sexual relationship between a psychiatrist and his client. Seeing Kate Winslet naked seems to be everyone's favorite part of this film but, as wonderful as that is, it comes out of nowhere and is made ludicrous and disgusting by the fact that she is peeing on herself. And while seeing Harvey Keitel running around in the deserts of Australia wearing a little red dress is certainly entertaining, I really think that, at that point, the audience is laughing AT the film, not with it.

Don't believe these people who try to tell you that this movie is "over some people's heads". These are the same people who think that if anything is weird or doesn't make sense, then it has some deeper meaning that they're missing, so they better pretend to see it so that they look smart. You know, the "Emperor's New Clothes" kind of people. This movie is crap. The characters are unbelievable, the dialogue is pretentious and annoyingly pseudo intellectual, the imagery lacks any form of subtlety and, aside from a few laughs and some good performances from Keitel and Winslet, there are no redeeming qualities to this film.

1 out of 10
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Funny, perhaps? No, just laughable!
awillawill1 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers

This is truly a dreadful movie. If it were intended as satire, it failed miserably. If it was supposed to be a drama that revealed inner (or even superficial) truths about cults and families, it failed miserably at this too.

My wife and I, who watched this on DVD, feared we had rented a "bummer" the moment moment someone's cigarette smoke curled into a rubbish title graphic "Holy Smoke". Out worst fears were confirmed with the appearance of Harvey Keitel looking like a pantomime villain from a daytime TV soap.

The dialogue was laughably overblown and utterly implausible. The idea that women would be falling at the feet and into the bed of the sleazeball Keitel character would require superhuman efforts to suspend disbelief. And would the Winslett character suddenly have switched from contempt to lust in a nanosecond? Of course not.

Cults are a serious issue. Cult busting requires intelligent and sensitive counselling. The Keitel character had neither of these.

There are great cinema stories to be told about cults and cult busting. But Holy Smoke was sure as hell not one of them.

I could go on and on about this wasted effort... (Sigh)
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Brilliant, daring and relevant
melanie-20129 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I knew right away that many popular critics would dislike HOLY SMOKE. They're typically representative of common thought - though perhaps more arrogant and more resistant to personal analysis. Like Nietzsche, Jane Campion challenges each of us to self-assess and allows no one to escape scrutiny. By the same token, Campion offers understanding for everyone. HOLY SMOKE doesn't take the superficial road - the "good vs evil" approach to issues, like the characters in the film do, although I believe it would have enjoyed better critical reception had it done exactly that.

The beauty and artistic brilliance by which Campion has dramatized the universal conditions of self-righteousness, hypocrisy and the various justifications to preserve one's comfort of the familiar, is also what I believe caused critics and many viewers discomfort. To me, that very reaction pushes the ironic validity of HOLY SMOKE even further.

I had seen Campion's THE PIANO (also featuring Harvey Keitel as the male lead)- a hauntingly beautiful and tragic story of passion that finds its way through the unique gift of a woman and the interest of a man in what she has to give. I was inspired to write a long letter of appreciation and thanks to Jane Campion for her awareness and honesty, her bluntness, her artistry and her guts. Depending on one's point of view, she either empowers or threatens. Her loving treatment of women, who traditionally have been taken for granted - their individual desires, interests and abilities largely disregarded - is evident in her art. But she doesn't stop there. She also shows true compassion and understanding for those whose rigidity and lack of self-awareness cause tragedy.

I saw HOLY SMOKE when it first came to theaters and I was mesmerized. Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet are brave artists who challenge themselves beyond where many would dare to go. From the double meaning of the title HOLY SMOKE (I focused more on the use of religion as a diversionary tool that often clouds reality with smokescreens of piety and righteousness) to the true perversions of our lies (mostly the lies we tell ourselves for comfort), HOLY SMOKE stays right on track. The creativity and individuality we sacrifice (including our own and those of our loved ones) in order to maintain appearances are real. The contortions we go through to become someone else or to escape our own realities with socially acceptable vices (cigarettes, alcohol, bleaching, tanning, etc.), and the desperate acts we perform in order to fit in or to be accepted are exposed within each scene. But we are so used to accepting these things in our every-day lives, it's easy to miss some of the references in the film. Either that, or we are too uncomfortable to admit it for ourselves.

So while some viewers/critics stop wanting to think when Ruth Barron (Winslet) urinates on herself (an event that turns the tables on her captor by literally forcing the question of who is in control) - I wonder why people wouldn't be more concerned about the intolerable situation Ruth is faced with. I imagine this scene allows for the dismissal of the film as obscene or "over-the-top." But with that I was able to sit up and take note of this woman's inner strength.

(An aside: I can't help but recall stories of women who prevent rape by defecating during the attempted crime. But how many of us would consider that too rude or impolite, if faced with the same situation? Women are conditioned to accept these things or to blame themselves, but Ruth defies her captor's rules).

While some may be put off or confused by witnessing such a macho man as PJ Waters allowing young Ruth to dress him in lipstick and a dress, I find the literate beauty of these scenes as evidence of Campion's insight into the human condition. Not only does the film slowly unveil the hidden realities of PJs state of being and affirm Ruth's strength even when apparently under the control of others, the scenes offer a cathartic effect - especially, perhaps, for women, but also for anyone who struggles to break the mold or challenge the status quo.

The notion that macho behavior is really a cover-up for fear of not being manly enough, is creatively expressed in HOLY SMOKE. Campion (through Winslet's powerful portrayal of Ruth and Keitel's gripping characterization of PJ) exposes lies, deceits and the true perversions that come from repression of any challenges to the status quo at all costs.

If I were to isolate related theses for HOLY SMOKE, they would be: "Who defines what is acceptable or not acceptable, and why? What is right and what is wrong? What is womanly and what is manly?" If all we have to go on is our own life experience (and we know we struggle with doubts every day in our own lives), can we really decide for others what is best? Yet aren't we also so quick to judge and feel self-righteous about the lives of others - especially those that most challenge our own experiences and understanding? Too often it is easier to criticize and want to control the lives of others than to look inward, critically assessing our own weaknesses and deepest personal fears.

I am uncertain about how I feel about the very ending. I like to believe that such a man (or any human) can grow from such experiences, but I think it would be even more likely PJ would have been so defensive of his masculinity that he would have killed himself first. That sense is the only detail that keeps me from giving HOLY SMOKE" a perfect score, though I'm sure Campion considered all this, too. I would love to have the discussion with her about her decision! Still, a small issue within a wonderful and brave film.
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In search of the Truth...
LeSamourai29 February 2000
Holy Smoke! follows two lost souls (Winslet and Keitel) over the course of three days. The Winslet character, Ruth Baron, is seduced by a not-so-handsome guru on a trip to India, and she intends to marry him. Eventually, her family tricks her into coming home and hires a famous "cult-exiter" named P.J. Waters (Keitel). Keitel's entrance, backed by Neil Diamond's "I Am, I Said," is priceless. Once Ruth agrees to the three-day exiting (because she doesn't believe that her views will be dislodged), debates on religion, truth, and sex commence between Ruth and P.J. The remainder of the film is an unexpected wild ride. Could P.J. learn a thing or two from a inexperienced but strong willed woman? Don't worry, Holy Smoke! isn't all seriousness. Ruth's wacky family provides most of the laughs in the film. At a family gathering, a sheep serves as a coffee table...no one even comments on it!

Holy Smoke! isn't nearly as grim or open-ended as The Piano or Portrait of a Lady (two films that gained and lost many Campion supporters). Underappreciated Winslet (unfortunately only well known for Titanic), gives the performance of her life. Keitel, too, is absolute perfection (as always). Campion recently said that she wanted to "seduce" the audience into thinking deeper...and she has.
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tua1484312 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Kate Winslet is in a cult, and its up to Harvey Keitel to deprogram her! Except that after the first day of deprogramming, SHE gets inside HIS head! Yes, after talking up Keitel as the greatest cult deprogrammer in the WORLD, he is put off by Winslet's intense psychological onslaught (taking her clothes off and pissing in the yard), then spends the rest of the movie, LITERALLY, chasing her around and trying to sex with her. Which they do. A couple of times. And then at the end of the movie, they say they love each other, after they yell and cry for awhile and then wind up in the desert and Keitel's wearing a dress and crazy.

This movie was awful.
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They couldn't make a real movie, so they made a soft porn
jytou14 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It's so hard to find a philosophical movie about India. When I took this movie from the local library (fortunately I didn't pay for it), I was hoping to see a teaser about Buddhism, or at least something funny about sects, but again I was wrong, and once again I understand that nobody in the film industry can make a real movie about India, Buddhism, or inner vacation. It doesn't even get close to this point. Don't search any philosophical ideas in this movie, you'll much more find every kind of porn fantasy: peeing naked woman, two men and women half naked, old man and young woman sex, man having makeup, gay/lesbians, etc. As they couldn't make a real movie, they tried the cheapest catches with naked women. My biggest movie mistake in my life, I watched it until the end to make sure and warn everyone not to watch it and waste 140 minutes from your lifetime, unless you're willing to wake up some sick feelings from strange fantasies. I was shocked seeing Kate Winslet in this movie, I really wonder how they made her sign the contract, it's definitely not the same woman who made Titanic a few years before. If your goal if to see her naked (and more), I'm not even sure it's worth renting this movie. Actors are overacting, I kept asking myself during the whole movie if it was the director's mistake or the actor's mistake, but the result is really bad, I guess they really smoked something while making this movie.
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Survivor meets Deep Throat in the Outback, mate!
fastal9 August 2000
Harvey Keitel is one of my favorite actors, but even he is laughable in this pedantic (dramedy)? Jane Campion has not made a watchable movie since Sweetie. If anyone is interested in good cult deprogramming movies, Checkout: Ticket to Heaven 1981...or Split Image 1982..
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A profoundly stupid film that fails on every level.
guinness-120 October 2007
A profoundly stupid film that fails on every level. Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel do their best to hold together a work of blinding awfulness, but ultimately fail. A complete waste of their talent. Jane Campion badly directs an abomination of a script that wasn't so much written as cobbled together with her sister. Is it meant to be a comedy? Because it fails on that level. Is it meant to be a warm human drama with life lessons? Because it does worse than fail there. Is it meant to be sexy? Because it absolutely is not! Don't waste your time, energy or money. I would stop there, but IMDb insists that I write ten lines. Goodness knows why. I've written everything that I could write. I suppose I could say that the picture stays in focus throughout most of it. And I could say that there are one or two decent pieces of music (although there are also some stinkers).
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Psycho-sexual intrigue, cosmic joke
jonest8011 July 2003
Most of Jane Campion's films make me uncomfortable. This one was no exception. But I liked it. And it has grown on me.

Having investigated eastern philosophy and western mysticism for years, I appreciate Jane Campion's competency in dealing with themes of a metaphysical nature. I was stunned by her use of metaphor in "The Piano," a constant returning to the place of origination, the synergy of yin and yang, the veil of illusion, and the mystery of expression ("the word").

Holy Smoke is more direct in its approach, but effective in exploring themes of power and love as both intimate and universal life forces. As usual, Campion approaches her subjects with an unflinching, but sympathetic, eye.

I am always nearly a fan of Campion's production values: I love the saturated, dark colors, the carefully contrived shots, the whimsical and sparing use of special effects and humor, and typically incredible casting.

While appealing on an aesthetic level, what appeals to me most about "Holy Smoke" is that it deals with some of my favorite themes: the illusory nature of "reality," the vulnerability, and power, of the human mind, and heart, and the sometimes shocking, sometimes humorous ways that we learn from the wisdom of the universe.

In "Holy Smoke," when I saw PJ Waters get off the plane to the sound of Neil Diamond singing "I am I said... I am I cried," I took notice, and became expectant of a punch line somewhere down the road.

This film could be called flawed, and is definitely not for everyone, but I come away from it feeling empowered, humbled, and amused--and appreciative of the sensitive, creative, adventurous spirits who made it.

PJ Waters is retained as an expert to de-program Ruth, but the Universe has other plans in mind... I love it.
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top-5 worst movies of the year
dirk-4717 September 1999
This movie is definitely the worst I have seen in a long time. Although an OK performance by Kate Winslet and the usual clean-up character by Harvey Keitel (which might work for a support act ...), the movie is a complete disaster. As if you prepare a pudding (the idea), then take away the tin and the whole bloody thing just falls together in itself (story, structure, performance).
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The film doesn't quite nail what it so clearly wants to do, but is somewhat interesting none-the-less.
johnnyboyz16 May 2009
I wanted to like Holy Smoke more than I did. There is a clear study in the film, a likable element about it that establishes one thing, develops that and then has the audacity to spin things around onto its head for our own amusement. The film isn't bad as much as it is a little misguided and inconsistent in tone; thus, a tad frustrating by the end. It would have been nice for the film not to have spilt out into a realm of comedy and not get so over-rawed by itself when it relies purely on the image of Harvey Keitel in a dress to get across feeling instead of developing what new level it's attempting to lever up onto.

The film is principally a study of the power certain people or 'texts' can have over others, or those of a weaker, more naive, disposition. The one thing the film does tell us is that it can be anybody who falls for the charms or tricks of anybody else, even macho PJ Waters (Keitel) who is supposed to be this ego-driven; ever immune; hard-as-nails; 'never takes no for an answer' and 'nobody puts one over him' caricature. The film's other victim of texts or ideation's that have 'influenced' them to act in artificial ways is a certain Ruth Barron (Winslet), a simplistic and relatively likable Australian girl with a steady life and a family that is very fond of her.

PJ exists in the film because of Ruth's inability to deal with the influence a certain Indian guru's image and ideas have on her. Ruth exists in the film to bring PJ into her life and furthermore influence him in both a spiritual and sexual sense. For the best part, the film looks at what affect certain texts and teachings can have on the young and outgoing plus whatever affect those attempting an anti-thesis on these beliefs can further suffer at the hands of their own patient. Unfortunately, the film cannot hold it all together and incorporates elements including, but not limited to: slapstick comedy; loose, sexy women as a drive for potential humour; well-known, female global stars in the nude for sake of hearsay as well as well known, male global stars dressed as women for a similar sake.

The film begins with Ruth in India. Whilst there, she falls under the influence of a popular Indian guru at the tapping of a forehead and a staring into the eyes. Job done, it would seem. Following this, she becomes trapped in the mindsets and ways of life so much so, that her mother has to fly out in order to 'rescue' her. Ruth doesn't come home initially, but after some banter and some comedy revolving around what a supposed dump really India is, she returns to Oz. Once home, there is a particularly eerie scene in which members of her own family have gathered as one to subdue her, thus refraining her from escaping back to the 'evil' world of India with all their 'evil' influential practises that they do on young, Western women. Could have been worse; they could've conned her into giving away her credit card details as well.

Hark, when there's something strange – and it don't look good, who are you going to call? Why, PJ Waters of course – a man listed somewhere in the phone-book under 'exorcist', I imagine. PJ is charged with ridding Ruth of these Hindu beliefs. I didn't think it would be so easy, otherwise we wouldn't have had a film, would we? I was expecting it to bed down and become a struggle of sexual politics as this gum chewing, snake skin boot wearing, shades wearing person, who's given all the build up he needs, went up against this young woman out to discover herself in the big, wide world. I was expecting a study of identities, a look at the role of one's self in contemporary Australia and how the Indian 'beliefs' perhaps elevated her to a new spiritual sense thus helping her see things the way she wanted.

What we get is a bizarre passage of events. The 'exorcism' plays out and mutates into a sort of 'patient begins to become object of doctor's desire' relationship between the two that further aids in bringing out PJ Waters' feminine side, so to speak. I found it quite amusing at how female director Jane Campion turns the tables on us; how she presents the female of the piece as weak minded and foolish, while the male is the battle-weary, intellectual individual out to 'correct' the female before mixing it all up and turning it on its head. Alas, on the whole, Campion is more interested in shooting Winslet in an array of skimpy outfits (before Kietel gets a chance of his own); she is more interested in a young boy dressed as Batman jumping off a car roof and smacking into the ground as a guardian fails to catch him; she is more interested in the flirtatious attitudes of Yvone (Lee) to act as humour and when lines like "I'm sorry Ruth, I should never have slept with you." from PJ evoke guffaws more than anything else, you sort of realise things are not all well.

There were some things I liked about Holy Smoke, but they aren't focused on enough for me to recommend it. Once Ruth becomes PJ's object of desire following a bizarre scene in a night club, the film falls apart somewhat and just becomes a slightly unconventional love story with very un-cinematic, and un-likable in equal measure, words like 'quirky' and 'kooky' being able to be attributed to it. The premise has been solved, we're heading off in new directions and the whole thing just fizzles out in a misery-strewn manner. Not a disaster, but not focused and even enough to be fond of.
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Post-'prestige', a partially successful return to SWEETIEland.(possible spoiler)
alice liddell17 April 2000
Warning: Spoilers
In a Shakespeare play like 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', the seeming order of the ruling caste hides a hotbed of anxieties, sexual, social, identity etc. To work these problems out, the action is moved away from the ruling centre to a nearby green space, a forest for example, where these anxieties and repressions are allowed to play themselves out before order is healthily restored.

Jane Campion in HOLY SMOKE uses this model, but there is no normality, health or restoration here. Ruth and PJ play out their psychodrama in the outback away from the bourgeois normality that is desperate to reassert itself. Because Judy's great crime is not the joining of a loony cult, but the fact that she has run away, she has made her own choice, she has refused the hypocritical grind of conventional domesticity and marriage, in favour of a more liberating connection.

It is not really the point that this is quaintly old-fashioned material, or that Judy's cult IS loony, that its appropriation of Hindu authority is gleeful kitsch, that the 'guru''s intentions may be less than spiritual, that Campion films the Indian sequence, as with much else in this deceptively 'serious' film, with surreal flippancy. The fact is that Judy's transgression is contrasted with the 'normality' of her home life, a life based on mendacity, adultery, sickness, idiocy, and, worst of all, a repressive conformity verging on the fascist (or cult-like), made even more frightening in that the grotesques surrounding her seem so loveably stupid.

Campion's method in the film seems to be to wear everyone down, to strip everyone of illusion, faith, pride, pretension. This is how the struggle between Judy and PJ plays. In one way it's a LAST TANGO IN PARIS-exercise in sexual nihilism. Out in the wilderness, in the 'cave' as PJ calls it, stripped of inessentials, both characters engage in a gladiatorial conflict, removing all conventions and defences, until they are bloody and beaten, they are not longer the selves they have created for themselves.

No one wins, we are brought to the beginning, we are allowed start again. Judy goes back to India, where she began the movie, PJ abandons his lecherous ways to become a partner, father (and after the families we've seen, this is hardly a victory) and novelist. The 'normal' family are in a sense rent too: the father finally leaves with his mistress, the mother goes to renew herself in India with Judy, the sister has already cheated on her doltish husband.

Can it really be this simple? The mind/sex games seem to take place according to very violent S&M principles, and the sexual undercurrent bursts into role-play, gender fluidity and humiliation. But is there a real counter to the violence inflicted on Judy? The horrifying scene where she is corralled by her male 'family' is continued by PJ's games, and the attempted rape in the nightclub. PJ as a bullying agent of male domination deserves to be cut down to size, but what did Judy do to deserve her punishment? The whiff of female masochism running throughout is possibly suspect - we expect it of Harvey at this stage, but can women only experience freedom through degradation, or is this just a 'comment' on how liberated women really are today?

The difficulties (and ultimate pleasure) of the film lies, you see, in its wavering tone. Although the film copies Wong Kar-Wai's fluid subjective style on occasion in its use of colour and editing, there is an oppressive theatricality as you would expect with a conflict between two protagonists in a fixed set. And while the film concerns some very fundamental traumas, there is a vein of absurd humour that Campion seemed to have lost in her previous prestige costume dramas, but that is gloriously in evidence here, slapstick, unexpected, silly, crude, surreal, wonderful.

This fluidity of forms, of tones, mirrors the identity and gender issues the film raises. Campion's sense of landscape, authentic and in awe, yet laced with both heightened camp and Hollywood melodrama, is unique, further charged in that this mythic Australian space is being contested by Anglo-Americans, as well as Woman and Man. In spite of some flaws - pacing in the second half especially - this is much better than the reviews have been claiming.
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maybe not for everybody, but excellent nonetheless
Ats-226 March 2000
I liked this movie very much, but I can see that not everybody might. I am a pretty introspective and philosophical geek, and I like to think of all the stuff that this movie revolves around, but probably not everybody is interested in this kind of thing.

This is a subtle movie. It doesn't have any message that would claim to be the 'answer', because such answers might not exist in the first place. There is only the scene where the cult counselor instructs Ruth to 'be kind', which strikes her as very profound.

The plot is definitely unconventional, and I liked it very much. Very refreshing after all the annoyingly predictable Hollywood junk! And all the silliness in the latter part of the movie was very much a part of the plot, and didn't make the movie worse at all!
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weirdness ensues in the logical conclusion to "hideous Kinky"
mikel weisser17 January 2002
Years from now Kate Winslet's 2 travelogue films, 1998's "Hideous Kinky" and 1999's "Holy Smoke," will be seen as one continuous movie. Sure "Kinky" is solely set in the 70s in Morocco and "Smoke" goes back and forth between a teeming India and a desolate Australian outback, but overall the parallels are too uncanny to be ignored. Both feature the beautiful Winslet in beautiful foreign locales seeking enlightenment and mostly getting dicked around by those who claim to be out to help her. Of the two "Hideous" is holier and "Smoke" is kinkier. "Holy Smoke" is also the far better film, focusing on the intensely emotional, often depraved, deprogramming of a young woman who joins an indian cult (Winslet)and the ultimate unraveling of her "exit counselor" (Keitel). Though the film does a decent job of documenting a deprogramming session, in typical Jane Campion fashion (she wrote and directed) the film also invests a good deal of energy delving into the sexual politics and is ultimately about a lot more than even that. Thanks to Campion's painterly eye, the visuals are occasionally stunning and the female acting is top notch. Keitel, who did such an arresting job in Campion's 1993 film "The Piano", is volcanic here as well. And like "The Piano" his penis also makes a cameo. (Speaking of which, the ever ravishing Winslet herself spends a good deal of time in the bush, if you --wink,wink--get my meaning.) All of which is fun to jabber about with your movie geek friends but this movie is worth more than its extended nude scenes, much more. It serves as as good a social dissection as Campion's early film, "Sweetie," invests a lot of honest energy into the true power in sexual politics, examines issues of faith and belief,and stares into the nexus between sex and mysticism to find the two are closer than most of us think.
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Lady Jane Finally Finds a Formula
tedg5 September 2000
One wonders what motivates Ms Campion. Like Spike Lee, she seems to have one thing to say, and somehow believes that film is the right place. Well, never mind. In this particular film, she has reached me.

For film to be good, it has to place me where I would not go, and change me. This time, I was swept up in this seemingly simple drama: the wilds, unknown motives, undirected ideals, misplaced trust. The images were unique, and the acting superb. I saw Kate in Hamlet and wondered if this was the same woman I had seen in Titanic. Her Ophelia, a challenge for anyone, was delicately layered. I'll be interested in watching her grow. Somewhat gratifying to see someone without a Barbie figure being sexy.

What worries me is how Campion had to make the whole rest of the world comically surreal in order to focus on her duo. She controls this part, and then lets the central drama run wild. I think she really was beyond her limits with this central drama, but that's what makes it genuine. "Portrait of a Lady" suffered from too much control -- here she shifts that control to the ludicrous aussie family, and lets the central drama roam.

Kate understands that she is not acting a character, but a belief system, or rather a belief in belief systems. We saw that in Ophelia and I'm sure that's why she was picked here. Keitel's defeat is an exposure of Christianity. But poor Harvey is a plain old (excellent) actor who just becomes his character. I'm sure he had no understanding that he was to "symbolize" something, and so while he connects with Winslow, he doesn't with Campion's vision.

Some symbols were unwelcome by me, because they were so deliberately placed: the pee, the reindeer-car, the koala bear...

So a little out of control, tarted up with post-feminist pretentiousness, and one of the performances excellent, but a near miss. So what? Do you want intellectual adventure, served visually or not?
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The WORST movie botch...
macayle22 February 2003
Warning: Spoilers
When I saw this movie, I had rented it for two reasons -- one, because Harvey Keitel is a good actor, and Kate Winslet seems to be at least decent; two -- because it was implied by the back of the video box that Kate Winslet might get naked. ***maybe sort of a spoiler coming up*** Well, the movie started off okay. The story meandered just slightly, but I was still interested. Kate Winslet's character was getting into this Indian religious leader, and I was curious where they were going with that -- and that's good, I should be curious. The problems didn't start there. Harvey Keitel's character was very cool, slightly mysterious, maybe a little creepy, but cool. The problems were not there. Then, approximately halfway through the movie, all of a sudden everything changes. The story they had been building is thrown out completely (and never really resolved), Kate Winslet gets completely darker and more...well, more of a b!#ch. But Harvey Keitel is even worse! At least Kate Winslet's character stayed near the same ball park as before, but Keitel became this raving lunatic, who in no way resembled his character from the first half of the movie. And to top it all off, Kate Winslet did get naked, but I -- being a heterosexual male -- was surprised when I couldn't even enjoy it. Kate Winslet is a beautiful girl, but it was so cheap and dirty, it was not even enjoyable. It reminded me of Showgirls for that reason. Suffice it to say, that considering the two main actors, and the fact that the story premise was good -- this should have been a MUCH better movie if a BABOON were directing it, much more so with an Academy Award nominee. Instead, it became the worst movie I have ever rented -- and I rented "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever", "barbershop", and "Money Train". Dissapointment would not begin to describe...
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