Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Holy Smoke!

Directed by Jane Campion and written by Jane and Anna Campion, Holy Smoke! is the story about an Australian family who hires an American counselor to retrieve their daughter who had just ventured into a religious cult. The film is an exploration into the world of spirituality and sexuality as it is a mixture of drama and comedy. Starring Harvey Keitel, Kate Winslet, Sophie Lee, Paul Goddard, and Pam Grier. Holy Smoke! is a witty and compelling film from Jane Campion.

When one finds spiritual enlightenment, it is for someone to fulfill itself through God in some form. Yet, the search for spiritual enlightenment can also be dangerous if it involves cults as a young woman named Ruth (Kate Winslet) seems to lose herself in enlightenment forcing her family to take action by bringing her to the Australian Outback where they hire a man named PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel) who is known for bringing people back to the real world after dealing with some dangerous religious cults. Yet, he faces some challenges in Ruth as he also becomes attracted to her where it conflicts with his intentions as his attempts to bring her back into the real world would end up having dire consequences for both of them.

The screenplay by Anna and Jane Campion explores the world of religious cults where Ruth’s trip to India has her embracing this figure known as Baba much to the concern of family and friends where Ruth’s mother (Julie Hamilton) travels to India to make claims that Ruth’s father (Tim Robertson) suffered a stroke in order to get her home. Once Ruth returns to Australia and learns the truth, she’s understandably upset as she is forced to live in the Outback with PJ while her family live in a house nearby. Still, things become difficult as PJ tries to break into Ruth’s mind as she tries to use her sex appeal to play up his machismo where it would work as PJ is eventually becoming confused as he starts to fall for her. Trouble eventually happens as the Campions do explore a man’s cynicism towards faith against a woman’s love for it yet the way it becomes a bit muddy towards the third act. Notably as it involves PJ’s own realization about himself while Ruth questions herself about who she is where it leads to an ending that is a bit overdrawn.

Jane Campion’s direction is quite interesting for the way she explores the world of spirituality and a man’s attempt to stray a woman away from that world to get back to reality. Campion creates a lot of mesmerizing images including some visual effects scenes that plays to Ruth’s enlightenment as if she did find God. Still, Campion remains grounded in reality as she shoots the film largely in the Outback as well as scenes in Sydney and India. Campion uses close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots to capture the dramatic tension between Ruth and PJ while also adding a sense of comedy for the scenes involving Ruth’s family. Campion also pokes fun a bit at the world of religious cult while exploring the world of sexual power play to see who can outwit who. Though Campion balances that mixture of comedy and drama for the first two acts, the script’s unevenness in the third act does sort of mess things up for her. Overall, Campion creates a very fascinating and unique film about spirituality that sort of falters a bit in its third act.

Cinematographer Dion Bebe does excellent work with the film‘s very colorful and lush cinematography for the many location scenes set in India and Australia in its exteriors as well as some rich lighting schemes for some of the film‘s interiors. Editor Veronika Jenet does nice work with the film‘s stylized editing with the use of some stylized montages in Ruth‘s enlightenment scenes as well as jump-cuts to play with some of the film‘s dramatic and comedic moments. Production/costume designer Janet Patterson, with art director Tony Campbell and set decorators Rebecca Cohen and Lisa Thompson, does wonderful work with the look of the houses in the Outback as well as a bar that Ruth and PJ attend with some of Ruth‘s family members while Patterson also creates costumes from the black clothes of PJ to the white sari of Ruth.

Visual effects supervisor Andy Brown does some terrific work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects to play out the world of spiritual enlightenment that Ruth is hit by. Sound designer Lee Smith does some very good work with the sound to capture some of the intimacy of the locations as well as the chaos in the scenes in India. The film’s music by Angelo Badalamenti is brilliant for its haunting yet low-key orchestral score to play out some of the drama that occurs in the film. The soundtrack features an array of music from artists like Neil Diamond, Alanis Morrisette, the Shirelles, and Annie Lennox.

The film’s cast is remarkable as it features some standout performances from Paul Goddard and Daniel Wyllie as Ruth’s brothers, Sophie Lee as Ruth’s sister-in-law who tries to seduce PJ, Julie Hamilton and Tim Robertson as Ruth’s parents, and Pam Grier as PJ’s girlfriend/accomplice Carol who shows up late in the film to see exactly what PJ is trying to do. Harvey Keitel is excellent as PJ Waters as a man who is trying to deprogram Ruth only to face new challenges as he’s attracted to her while dealing with his own faults as a man. Kate Winslet is fantastic as Ruth as a woman who believes she’s found faith only to realize that she could really be lost while trying to find something to believe in.

Holy Smoke! is a stellar yet captivating film from Jane Campion that is highlighted by the performances of Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel. While it’s a film that is quite flawed at times while having some nice commentary about the world of faith and some of its downsides involving cults. It is still an engaging film for the way it reveals a man’s attempt to take away a woman’s enlightenment only to face his own faults. In the end, Holy Smoke! is a very good film from Jane Campion.

Jane Campion Films: Sweetie - An Angel at My Table - The Piano - The Portrait of a Lady - In the Cut - Bright Star - Top of the Lake (TV miniseries) - (Top of the Lake-China Girl) - The Power of the Dog - The Auteurs #25: Jane Campion

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