Sunday, April 3, 2016

Holy Smoke

Movie Name: Holy Smoke!
Year of Release: 1999
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Julie Hamilton, Tim Robertson, Sophie Lee, Daniel Wyllie, Paul Goddard, Pam Grier, Kerry Walker, Samantha Murray, Eva Martin
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis & Review:
Following the critically successful films that Jane Campion had in the early 90s (which included "An Angel at My Table", "The Piano" and "Portrait of a Lady"), the director ended the decade with one of her more divisive titles, "Holy Smoke". The film follows the story of Ruth Barron, a young Australian woman whom while taking a trip to India experiences a spiritual awakening and decides to stay in that country. Her family is shocked to learn of these events and of the fact that Ruth has no interest in coming back. In order to get her to return home, they make up a fake illness and her mother Miriam travels to India in hopes of convincing her to come home. The family then hires PJ Waters, an American expert in deprogramming people who have been involved in religious cults. The relationship between these two people evolves in a way that produces unexpected results.
Jane Campion has long been one of the most fascinating voices in modern film. Her films traditionally focus on heroines who are at odds with their surrounding worlds, women who find themselves initially undermined by an oppressively male domineering world. Throughout her features, as the story progresses, so does the catharsis of her heroines, who find their voices, their sense of self and their own sexuality as part of a unified rediscovered whole, who positions them as a voice to be heard in the world. These themes are on display in "Holy Smoke!", placing Kate Winslet's Ruth as a young woman discovering herself, her sexuality and voice, at the center of an attempt by her family and by an older man (the deprogrammer), to tone her desires and needs down. It's a film that has a unique tone, oscillating between drama and absurd. Unlike her earlier features, such as "Sweetie", the overall film doesn't feel quite as coherent, but it's still a great showcase of her universe, alongside the talents of the always fantastic Kate Winslet and the underrated Harvey Keitel. A good film worth watching.