Holy Smoke

A headstrong young woman and a cocksure older man are locked in a battle of wills in this sly film directed by Jane Campion and co-written with her sister Anna. On a visit to India, Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet) becomes a disciple of a local guru, much to the dismay of her loopy but essentially good-hearted family. On the advice of a friend, they hire an American...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A headstrong young woman and a cocksure older man are locked in a battle of wills in this sly film directed by Jane Campion and co-written with her sister Anna. On a visit to India, Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet) becomes a disciple of a local guru, much to the

dismay of her loopy but essentially good-hearted family. On the advice of a friend, they hire an American "exit counselor" named PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel) to un-brainwash Ruth, and trick her into returning to Australia. Waters sweeps into the less-than-ideal circumstances like the superstar

victor of 189 deprogrammings he is: Sure, Ruth's family are nut jobs, the assistant he was promised has gone missing and there's no suitable replacement available. But PJ forges ahead, whisking Ruth off to an isolated halfway house in the outback; he reckons it will take all of three days to strip

her of her starry-eyed delusions about the sleazy swami and return her to her old life. How wrong he is. Under all the apparently far-ranging talk — and there's plenty of it — Campion's film is fairly single-minded. Ruth and PJ are locked in a staring contest, a childish endurance test

played for adult stakes; Campion's nine-minute short PEEL: AN EXERCISE IN DISCIPLINE (1982) covers the same essential ground. Ruth and PJ both think they know everything and are both convinced they have the upper hand; each will do whatever it takes to win, no matter how searing the emotional

cost. Winslet and Keitel are perfectly matched, go-for-broke actors handed dramatic license to do a psychic striptease, which is how Winslet winds up naked and urinating in the dust while Keitel ends up in lipstick and a dress. Campion's seductive flourishes are eye-catching but never gratuitous,

and the image of Winslet as a multi-armed goddess is truly ravishing.

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: R
  • Review: A headstrong young woman and a cocksure older man are locked in a battle of wills in this sly film directed by Jane Campion and co-written with her sister Anna. On a visit to India, Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet) becomes a disciple of a local guru, much to the… (more)

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