"Piano" Played Again
Holy Smoke
Review by Ross Anthony

The temptation to compare this movie to director Jane Campion's other film "Piano" is too great to resist ... so I won't. That said, if you appreciated "Piano" you probably won't appreciate this review. So bail, before it irks you.

What was great, in fact, really wonderful about "Piano" was that one lasting image of a full spirited young woman nimbly massaging the keys of a grand piano resting it's three legs in the warm gold-sanded coastline of some exotic land. Wind through her hair, crystal blue water ... her audience. Oh, and of course that last shot of her plunging into the ocean from the boat later. But the in between lacked a movie. This is my frustration with "Holy Smoke." Only this time those points of interest rely on an emotional factor as well as visual. It's as if the writers had said, "Wouldn't it be cool if we had her stroke lipstick across Keitel's face?" or "What if ... etc.?" So that the movie as a coherent piece falls follower to a series of loosely connected dots that like so many false gods ... don't seem to lead anywhere.

That said, I really enjoyed the dialogue between Keitel and Winslet. Winslet plays a "messed up" Aussie girl that's become a groupie of some Indian guru. Her folks trick her back to Australia and hire Keitel (a highly paid American guy with a solid rep as cult-head breaker). The two finally steal away in a "Halfway hut" in the outback. This is were the real drama unfolds. I was liking it. I was intrigued, but in the end, I felt teased ... because it never develops into anything interesting, rather it degenerates into sex. Also distracting, an awkward humor surrounding Kate's family that never seems to strike a funnybone; at times resorting to silly physical comedy ... pretty boy smashes nose into pole, for instance. The film could have dropped its attempt at "Fargo" humor and monopolized on what it did well ... the drama of two hard-headed, vulnerable people of opposite sexes locked in the outback.

And a theme? I missed it. Was it that this woman finally breaks down and "Be's kind?" Because of a series of actions carried out by the supposed teacher of that lesson, I don't buy it. All the picture seems to say is "Men are slaves to their genitals and women are slaves to their emotions." (Not a very impressive learning experience.)

  • Holy Smoke. Copyright © 1999. Rated R.
  • Starring Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Julie Hamilton, Tim Robertson.
  • Written by Anna Campion & Jane Campion.
  • Directed by Jane Campion.
  • Produced by Jan Chapman.
  • A Mirimax release.


Copyright © 1999. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:09:01 PDT