Friday, January 12, 2007

Movie Review: Holy Smoke 4 Stars!

Sexy and funny traditionally go together like oil and water. However, directress Jane Campion put her peanut butter in my chocolate, and vice versa, with her latest film, Holy Smoke! co-written with sister Anna. In Campion’s deft hands, the two great tastes taste great together.

Ruth (Kate Winslet) is a young Australian beauty in search of the something missing in her life. In her travels to India, she meets a Guru who sparks the something missing inside her. She becomes a devotee, eschewing her Western garb--and mores--for a traditional Hindu lifestyle. This is all to the horror of her middle-class parents back home, of course.

Tricking Ruth into returning home to visit her “dying” father, they shanghai her for deprogramming by a slick American cult exiter named P.J. (Harvey Keitel). Holed away in a hut in the middle of the desert, P.J. begins the process of using his extensive knowledge of religion and flawless logic to strip away the girl’s defenses. But in doing so, Ruth discovers the power of her sexuality. In an emotional and spiritual powerplay, Ruth and P.J. begin to break each other.

Disturbingly sexy, perversely funny, marvelously acted, Holy Smoke! marks a return to the style and substance of Campion’s earlier work like Sweetie. The cruel romance and spiritual journey P.J. and Ruth undertake is raw and tender, mean and ugly but, ultimately, uplifting.

Beautifully photographed by Dion Beebe in the wide open desert of New South Wales as well as the cramped (and obviously fetid) streets of Delhi, Holy Smoke! boasts fine performances by a terrific supporting cast and an outstanding score by Angelo Badalamenti.

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