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Holy Smoke (1999, Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel)



While travelling in India, Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet) joins a cult, leaving her friend to inform her family about the decision. Their reaction is swift and shrewd as Ruth’s mother Miriam (Julie Hamilton) travels to Delhi and pretends Ruth’s father is dying – a ruse that succeeds in getting her home.

There, the family hire cult specialist, P.J. Waters (Harvey Keitel) to de-programme her and by day two she has cracked, and he is able to educate her about the truth of cult life, but at a price: the pair become lovers. The next day, P.J. saves her from being attacked, and is then rewarded by the unexpected arrival of his girlfriend, Carol (Pam Grier), and is forced to choose between the safety and comfort of established love, or the random, intoxicating danger of forbidden passion…

Alternately laughable and wholly involving, Holy Smoke see director Jane Campion plunge yet another strong-willed heroine (see Holly Hunter in The Piano or Meg Ryan’s In The Cut ) into danger based on passion and personality. That’s where the formula ends. Campion builds a complex and challenging mise-en-scene to convey her message: imagination and reality must reconcile to create a balanced identity. But this is no existential sermon, and there’s enough twists and shocks to maintain interest (Keitel dabbling in transvestism should sate the most demanding viewer).

production details
Australia | 115 minutes | 1999

Director: Jane Campion
Script: Anna Campion, Jane Campion,

Kate Winslet as Ruth Barron
Harvey Keitel as PJ Waters
Julie Hamilton as Mum
Sophie Lee as Yvonne
Daniel Wyllie as Robbie
Paul Goddard as Tim
Tim Robertson as Dad
George Mangos as Yanni
Kerry Walker as Puss
Leslie Dayman as Bill-Bill
Samantha Murray as Prue
Sandy Gutman as Stan
Simon Anderson as Fabio
Pam Grier as Carol
Robert Lee as Cult Video Reporter
Genevieve Lemon as Rahi