Retro Review: Holy Smoke!

Harvey Keitel re-teams with feminist director Jane Campion for another journey back to the land down under. This time Keitel is the world’s best “cult deprogrammer” and his subject is a religiously confused Kate Winslet.

Holy Smoke is one of those art films that probably won’t appeal to the biggest of audiences because of its tone and harsh storyline. Kate Winslet continues to grow as an actress with this risky and risqué venture. But it’s her spirit and screen presence which brought me in. As her emotions and beliefs crossed with her parents, we began to actually see the two worlds at war for this young girl.

These were magical scenes which Campion did a wonderful job with. But as Campion delivers a generous telling of the story and makes it very compassionate and direct for us, we are shocked when Keitel’s man’s drops his pants in a comfort scene. And you begin to wonder if this guy is a professional and if he should be looking after a vulnerable young woman.

Both in 1996’s “Portrait of a Lady” and in 1993’s “The Piano”, we saw this destruction of a man. And Campion continues her escapade here as Keitel delivers quotes of morals but never really believes a word. He self-destructs and delivers his own fiery flight into the flesh of an innocent woman.

What made me really cringe was the running time on Keitel’s destruction. Campion would never let up and this reminded me a lot of the Piano as well. Is Campion saying that women destroy men or that men destroy themselves with sex?

Another begging question is why did a fully nude Winslet have to deliver a “golden shower” before they could embrace and seal his eminent fate? Is this a symbolism of a lost vulnerability and innocence?

A cross-dressing Keitel screams after a shoeless Winslet as they stumble through the Australian outback this results in his final undoing and her final deliverance from him. A lot of clouded symbolism and half truths had me scratching my head. Or maybe “Holy Smoke” just goes up in a puff of smoke.

(2.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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