June 18, 2007

Holy Smoke

I finally saw Jane Champion’s Holy Smoke. I had been intending to view Holy Smoke for a long time now but never really got around. Holy Smoke features Kate Winslet as Ruth, an Australian who on a visit to India gets hooked on to a Baba. She feels that she’s the chosen one and decides to stay back in India much to the anger of her parents. Her mother comes down to India to cajole her back telling that her father is on this deathbed. Ruth considers it but finally decides that maybe it was meant to this way and tells her mother that maybe next time should be better. The mother gets pissed off and runs off; while being chased in the gullies she runs out of breath and finally gets her way when Ruth decided to accompany her mother back. Her family is surprised to see the rebel Ruth in a sari now and can’t make up their mind if this is one of her latest fads or if she really means to become a Sanyasin.

The family snoops around and calls in PJ Waters (Harvey Keital), an exit counselor. He treats women who are infatuated with baba’s, god men and cult gurus. He has a three-day program and things get messy once he lands up in Oz with Neil Diamond playing in the background. A fast-talking, one liner cracking American that PJ is pisses Ruth to no end but she agrees to be a part of his three exoneration program. They shack up in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. The first day they talk as PJ isolates her, the second day he ties her sari to a tree and forces her to roam around in almost nothing and by the third day PJ is madly attracted to Ruth. Ruth manages to confuse PJ and by the end of it you don’t know who is doing what except that both actors are exploring their characters deepest fantasies. PJ’s girlfriend lands up to check on him but is shocked to see Ruth naked on the couch and PJ asking her for some more time. In a bizarre twist of fate the hunter becomes hunted with PJ dressed in Ruth’s flaming red one piece party dress and chasing Ruth across the Australian outback proclaiming his love for her. Holy Smoke finally ends with Ruth and her mother working in India and PJ back with girlfriend. They exchange letters; Ruth tells him that she loves him and PJ informs her that he’s honored and that he is writing his second book about a man who finds his angel.

One of the biggest reasons to see
Holy Smoke was Kate Winslet; I love her work and consider her to be one of the finer actors around. She never shies away from doing anything and often ends up picking interesting characters. Right from Heavenly Creatures to Sense and Sensibility to the recent Little Children, Kate Winslet is a treat to watch. She is what the critics call a ‘brave’ actor. Any actor who does anything half way decent is a brave person if you ask me for it’s not easy to stupid things in front of a 100 people and make it look as serious as signing the Kyoto agreement. Holy Smoke has an entire full frontal sequence and Kate Winslet is so confident that one forgets she’s not wearing anything! The film might have it's share of problems but kate Winslet make it watchable.

These days it’s rare to come across a film that features Keitel in a longish role. He does walk on parts in many big films but that’s just about it. No more Holy Smoke, Piano, Reservoir Dogs or Bad Lieutenant for him and sadly for us as well. An article once described Harvey Keitel as “Robert De Niro’s contemporary but only darker…”, the article further noted that had De Niro not become as famous as he is, he’d have been doing what Keitel does. Well I can’t say much about the second statement but the first one holds a lot of water. Being the non-leading man types has allowed people like Gene Hackman and Harvey Keitel do a great deal of experimentation.

The best story about Keitel that read was that his wife was teaching acting and one of her students came up with a script that he wanted her to read and comment on. The student’s friend wanted to make a quickie in Black and White and had asked him to play one of the roles. Keitel’s wife read it and freaked out; she showed it to Keitel and he freaked out. A few weeks later Keitel was producing the student’s friend independent feature which went on to become Reservoir Dogs and no prizes for guessing the name for student’s friend!

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