Kate Winslet (TITANIC, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY) and Harvey Keitel (U-571, PULP FICTION) add scintillating performances to a seductive, darkly hilarious motion picture that's met with overwhelming critical acclaim! While on a... more » journey of discovery in exotic India, beautiful young Ruth Barroin (Winslet) falls under the influence of a charismatic religious guru. Her desperate parents then hire PJ Waters (Keitel), a macho cult deprogrammer, who confronts Ruth in a remote desert hideaway. But PJ quickly learns that he's met his match in the sexy, intelligent, and iron-willed Ruth! Another memorable motion picture directed by Academy Award(R)-winner Jane Campion -- you'll feel an undeniable comic charge from the sparks that fly as PJ and Ruth face off in an electric battle of the sexes.« less
This story is about the relationship between a young woman (Winslet) and the man (Keitel) hired to get her out of an India guru's "cult." From the very beginning everything goes wrong, from his point-of-view. His chosen assistant can't make it on time. The replacement offered by his "local contacts" is a moron. Then the young woman arrives early - and to top everything off, she's smart enough to see through his games! For every break-through he has with her, she breaks him down too.
Very, very, little is said about the fact that what he does is illegal in nearly every civilized country in the world. By the end of the film, he should be in jail 15 ways from Sunday, but he's allowed to leave like nothing illegal happened. That, to me, is the most disappointing aspect of the entire movie.
As far as the acting, story, and production are concerned, this is a high-quality movie. If you like movies similar to "The Hitchhiker", "Breakdown", or "Death Proof" then you should like this.
Fascinating and thought-provoking
Marla | California | 01/23/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw the film in Los Angeles in January 2000.Ruth discovers in India an aspect of life different from anything she has known back home in Australia. Her family members mistakenly believe she has been brainwashed, hire a "cult exit counselor", and trick her into returning home for the deprogramming procedure.Director Jane Campion has said she hopes the film will prompt viewers to question Western thinking about commitment and illusion in the spiritual life. She says she doesn't tell the story in a simple way, and deliberately doesn't give the audience any solutions."Simple" it is not. Complex characters engage in a battle of wills, each person losing something, but gaining much in the process. Betrayal, humor, and sensuality are all elements of this fascinating, engrossing film.Ms. Winslet delivers a very powerful, extraordinary performance. Critics have described her as "funny, erotic, scary, touching, real and utterly mesmerizing." Brava to her for continuing to choose characters of depth and complexity.Holy Smoke! is beautifully photographed, interesting, amusing and though-provoking - a considerable achievement for all involved."
Can Kate deprogram the deprogrammer?
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 03/15/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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."
A MESS OF A BRILLIANT IDEA, BUT A WORTHY AND WATCHABLE ONE..
Shashank Tripathi | Gadabout | 01/27/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Jane Campion rides a slippery slope: an Australian woman (Winslet) visits India and becomes indoctrinated with a cult. Sounds like a sombre enough subject, but not in the hands of Campion. We are served instead a slightly more doozy fare: a part satire, part romantic comedy, part drama and part...ahem...soft porn. There's a good deal of nudity here, and if you are a Harvey Keitel fan, that could be reason alone to grab a copy of this. Truth be told, Keitel is in fact almost embarrassing, especially towards the tail of the movie, which he spends mostly wearing a dress (don't ask.) Visual splendour of other forms abounds as well. The film sports some gorgeous shots of the Australian outback and Indian pilgrimage towns. Not that any of this really does much to the bizarre "deprogramming" dialogue. If anything saves this movie it has to be one of a couple of things: (1) Kate Winslet, who is not only very beautiful and sensual, she also lends a great deal of comic credibility to her role.(2) The second thing that no reviewers here seem to have noticed is THE mindblowing SOUNDTRACK!Overall the movie is somewhat of a mess with a highly implausible denouement twist, but its probably a worthy ride for Winslet/Keitel fans. Recommended rental."
Smart, funny, bizarre.
J. T. Nite | Mesa, AZ USA | 11/22/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I can safely say this is the strangest movie I've seen in a goodly long time. In a way, it's more bizarre than surreal classics like Eraserhead, because it deals with real people and the strange things they do with and to one another.Kate Winslet plays Ruth, a callow young Australian who gets involved with a cult on a trip to India. Her talk of reincarnation and living in light baffles her parents, who are convinced she's been brainwashed (though Ruth's 'conversion' seems more of a whim than a rebirth). So they hire PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel), a 'cult exiter,' to talk her down.Waters is all American swagger, dyed black hair, all-black wardrobe, snakeskin cowboy boots. He simmers with smooth arrogance; he expects no trouble from his troubled teen charge. He spirits her away to an isolated hut, and all heck breaks loose.Refreshingly, this isn't a movie about faith and religion. I was none-too-eagerly anticipating long discussions about God. Instead, the conversation veers into sex and gender roles, exposing PJ's arrogance for the chauvinism it is, letting Ruth give him harsh lessons in female empowerment.None of this makes too much sense -- the conversations are non sequitur, events unfold contrary to one's expectations. But it's fascinating and hilarious, so that's forgivable. The important thing to remember is that you're watching a *comedy*; don't make the mistake of taking the proceedings more seriously than did the filmmakers.If nothing else, watch it for the cinematography. Campion knows how to set up a shot; the whole film is infused with Australia's glowing oranges and reds. In short, a beautifully shot, funny film, a bit nonsensical, sure to spark controversy and discussion. Definitely see it if you've got an open mind."
Promising but pointless
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 10/07/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The subject of cult deprogramming has been dealt with in serious terms by any number of filmmakers, but director Jane Campion seems to be the first to approach it from a satirical perspective. The employment of such a mocking tone could easily open an artist to charges, on the one hand, of anti-religious bigotry and, on the other, of treating too lightly the real devastating consequences - for both the `victim' and their family - of a person's involvement in either the cult itself or the deprogramming that comes after. For the sheer audacity of her vision then, the Australian filmmaker - along with her co-writing sister, Anna - deserves a certain amount of acknowledgement and praise. Unfortunately, `Holy Smoke,' after a rather promising first half, falters badly, becoming, in the final analysis, mannered, unfocused and, above all, pointless in both its tone and message.The first half of the film is fitfully amusing as we are introduced to Ruth (Kate Winslet) and her colorful Aussie family, the Barrons. It seems that Ruth, on a vacation to India, has fallen under the spell of a hypnotic guru and her disapproving family has devised a scheme to haul her back and submit her to the methods and wiles of PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel), the world's most successful cult deprogrammer. So far so good as Ruth's `mum' (played by the delightful Julie Hamilton) hops aboard a plane to India to find her daughter and bring her back to Australia and, consequently, her senses. Mum's fumbling attempts to comprehend this alien, exotic culture provide the heartiest laughs in the film. Unfortunately, once Ruth and PJ are locked away in an isolated cabin in the outback for a bit of one-on-one deprogramming, the film completely loses its way, abandoning the eccentric members of Ruth's family and forcing us to observe, almost exclusively, these two far less interesting characters. For a while the film does raise a few pointed issues. We wonder, for instance, what kind of people fall prey to these brainwashing spiritual leaders; then we ask ourselves, if the alternative of returning to a presumably empty existence is really so much better. We contemplate as well whether the deprogrammer really has the answers - or is he, in addition to restricting the freedom of choice of this adult individual, himself compensating for some internal emptiness he fears to acknowledge? Sadly, such morally ambiguous themes go largely unexplored, as Ruth and PJ lock horns in an increasingly bizarre and decreasingly funny battle of wills. Soon, Ruth is wandering aimlessly around the compound stark naked (funny, usually it is Keitel who does the full frontal nudity thing in his films!) and PJ is allowing her to dress him up in women's clothing and daub his face in lipstick and makeup. As the Campion sisters lose their grasp on the themes they have so brilliantly set up, we become more and more uninterested in the story's outcome. Ruth never becomes a full-fledged character in her own right. We are given virtually no inkling of what kind of life she led before her trip to India or of what exactly led to her feeling of spiritual emptiness. PJ, predictably, violates his own professional ethics code by falling in love and sleeping with his patient, an act that has not the comic thrust to compensate for its queasy distastefulness. Thus, despite a promising beginning - and some very good performances by a gifted cast - `Holy Smoke' leaves the audience pondering the why and wherefore of its existence. If one is going to make a comedy out of such touchy material, one had best figure out a clearer destination and map out a better strategy to get there."