Holy Smoke

dir. jane campion
st. kate winslet, harvey keitel, sophie lee, julie hamilton

Many critics in respectable (o poor adjective, how thou hast been downtrodden!) journals such as Time, have apparently been very enthusiastic about this movie, but I fail to see what the fuss is about. Perhaps it's because I accidentally broke my vow of external silence, picking up a promotional handout and greedily devouring the words on the page. Like the woman in front of me, I should have just whipped out some paper and jotted down my thoughts for the day (McCahon and Malevich featured prominently, so it's not as if it would be a complete waste of time), but instead I read it, read the plot details and the BRILLIANT and the MUST SEE.

I suspect however, after much soul searching, that it is not any of these things that detracts from the supposed greatness of the movies. Instead, it might be small details such as the incredible disjointedness of the film, the clumsy way it has been put together.

The actors cannot be faulted on characterization, which was faultless across the board. Winslet's defiant and voluptuously chesty 18 year old Ruth, Keitel's macho and issue ridden exit counsellor PJ, not to mention a Sophie Lee who's every movie manages to polish her Aussie Harpie archetype that much more, and an encore performance from Julie Hamilton as Ruth's mother, a religious, scared woman (asthma as an adjunctive metaphor for neurosis - how bioethically unsound!).

Unfortunately, Campion makes them jump through too many hoops. My initial impression was that Campion was aiming for Machiavellian engineering, but later on it becomes obvious that the characters have indeed lost control of themselves, with sudden (5 seconds!) insights and realizations, and changes that are far too quick to be believable.

With too many issues and discussions on their plate, the Campions make do, even forging a neo-urban internationalistic poem for an ending, but the movie as a whole is devoid of such poetry, just rare spots throughout like the hallucinatory fantasies that both Ruth and PJ experience, which are stunning and beautiful. Animal Logic has certainly outdone themselves this time, and it is with rare pleasure that I say that the special effects are one of the best parts of the movie.

huan-tzin goh
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