Holy Smoke [1999]

Genre: Drama, Comedy
Aussie director Jane Campion's one of a kind. Forget money and fame; she's inspired by the pleasure of sharing her cinematic dreams with friends and film audiences. Her globetrotting heroines (Angel at My Table, The Piano, Portrait of a Lady) may be willful, crazed, self-absorbed, wrong--but who can resist joining these passionate women on their voyages of self-discovery, whether they lead to safe harbor or dead end? Holy Smoke opens deliriously in a magical India, saturated with light, color, sensuality. Celebrated by Neil Diamond's anthem, "Holly Holy," Ruth Baron (Kate Winslet, delivering a breathtakingly luminous performance) explores a world that encourages spiritual epiphany--and falls hard for the cartoonish guru who opens her "third eye." Back home in Australia, her hilariously dysfunctional, distinctly down-to-earth family hires hotshot deprogrammer PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel, his dyed hair and cowboy boots telegraphing desperate machismo) to cure Ruth. In an isolated Outback shack, Campion's duo wrestle each other for control of their souls--and bodies, too. This duel's in deadly earnest: Ruth assaults Waters's petrified masculinity; PJ aims to strip this radiant girl of her unexamined faith. Their wild ride--funny, brutal, erotic--toward brand-new selfhood is punctuated by indelible images: Ruth dancing in a white sari beside an emu corral; naked in the night, Ruth offering her lush body to her tormentor; lost in the desert, cross-dressed in red gown, PJ "saved" by a golden vision of Ruth as a magnificent Indian goddess. For those who love the way movies can sometimes project truth and beauty, Holy Smoke is a feast for the eyes--and for the mind. --Kathleen Murphy

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