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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can Kate deprogram the deprogrammer?
Kate Winslet plays Ruth Barron, a young Australian woman who goes to India and becomes smitten with the touch of a charismatic guru, so much so that she changes her name and forsakes her family to stay in India and attend to and worship the guru. Her parents become alarmed. Her mother goes to India to trick her into coming back to Australia so that she can be...
Published on 15 Mar 2006 by Dennis Littrell

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intruiging drama that never quite gets there
Having watched this Jane Campion film, you are left with the uneasy suspicion that, whilst you have enjoyed a visual treat, the film has never quite got to where it wanted to. There are so many different themes picked up by the film that are never quite brought to a satisfactory end. Certainly, more could have been made of the whole cult aspect of the film rather than...
Published on 12 Dec 2000 by joelymim@jtarbit.freeserve.co.uk


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can Kate deprogram the deprogrammer?, 15 Mar 2006
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Kate Winslet plays Ruth Barron, a young Australian woman who goes to India and becomes smitten with the touch of a charismatic guru, so much so that she changes her name and forsakes her family to stay in India and attend to and worship the guru. Her parents become alarmed. Her mother goes to India to trick her into coming back to Australia so that she can be deprogrammed by a professional from the United States that they have hired (P.J. Waters as played by Harvey Keitel).
What director Jane Campion does with this once familiar theme is most interesting. She puts the deprogrammer to the test, so to speak, and initiates a struggle of will between the deprogrammer and his young charge. The key scene arrives as Ruth comes naked into P.J.'s arms in order to test his professionalism (and her sexual power). I don't know about you but I think a naked and passionate Kate Winslet would test any man's motivation and make him think twice about what he really wants to do.
The psychological idea behind the story is this question, What is the nature of the guru's hold on his flock? Is it spiritual or is it profane? Do the young women who follow him desire him as an alpha male or is it spiritual deliverance they seek? Naturally Ruth believes the latter and the deprogrammer the former. But what is the deprogammer's motivation? Is this just a job for him or does he feel he is helping to free his clients from some kind of mental slavery? Or is he just another sort of phony guru himself?
Keitel in black hair and black moustache and devil's mini goatee dressed in black with a menacing look and a lot of physical energy (despite being 60-years-old when this film was released) contrasts sharply with Winslet's youthful beauty and beguiling voluptuousness. Strength of character is something Kate Winslet brings to any role, even including her outstanding performance as Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996), a role that is usually played wiltingly. Here one senses that her strong will and determination are going to be quite a match for the deprogrammer who gives himself three days alone with her to break her attachment to the guru.
Two questions: One, if he is successful, will that just mean that she has transferred her allegiance from the Indian guru to him? Will it mean that his psychological strength is greater than that of the guru in far-off India? Two, in what respect is such a forced confinement with someone who is in physical control going to lead to a variant of the "Stockholm syndrome" experienced by some women held hostage, e.g., flight attendants on hijacked planes, and the famous case of Patty Hearst? Will the captive become enamored of her captor?
Campion handles this most interesting theme by focusing on the sexual and carnal nature of the relationships. The test of will between P.J. and Ruth becomes a question of Can she seduce him and thereby strip him of his professionalism? The movie is candid about sex and sexuality in a way that emphasizes the power dynamics of sexual relationships. There is some full frontal nudity and the sex scenes are steamy beyond what one usually sees in an R-rated film. (If seeing Kate Winslet naked might offend you, I recommend you close your eyes.)
Harvey Keitel did an outstanding job in a very demanding role and was entirely convincing (despite being a little too old for the part); but as usual Kate Winslet completely took over the film with her commanding countenance, her superior acting skills, her great concentration and her mesmerizing charisma. If there is a better, more captivating young actress working today, I don't know who she is.
Her role here might be compared with her performance in Hideous Kinky (1998) in which she goes to Morocco to find enlightenment among the Sufis. That is a more charming film, and she is outstanding, but this one gives greater range to her skills.
Notable (and watchable!) as a counterpoint to Winslet's Ruth is sexy and sleazy Sophie Lee as Yvonne who is so taken with P.J. that she fairly begs him to make love to her. Also impressive is Julie Hamilton as the woebegone and stumbling mother.
Of course I would say see this for Kate Winslet, and if you are a fan, you sure don't want to miss Holy Smoke since it includes one of her best performances; however, what really impressed me is the original and daring conception and direction by Jane Campion who is best known for The Piano (1993), a film that received an Oscar nomination for the best direction and starred Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill.
So see this for Jane Campion who is not afraid to show human nature in the raw.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intruiging drama that never quite gets there, 12 Dec 2000
This review is from: Holy Smoke [DVD] [2000] (DVD)
Having watched this Jane Campion film, you are left with the uneasy suspicion that, whilst you have enjoyed a visual treat, the film has never quite got to where it wanted to. There are so many different themes picked up by the film that are never quite brought to a satisfactory end. Certainly, more could have been made of the whole cult aspect of the film rather than becoming, as it does, simply a battle of wits between the main protagonists.
Having said this, the film is visually stunning, most especially the fabulously rich shots of India, contrasted perfectly by the bare Australian outback. The acting is generally superb, with a particularly strong performance from Kate Winslet, finding extra-ordinary depths to her character. Harvey Keitel, on the other hand, plays his character as straight as can be, and perhaps this is the problem. His lack of depth hamstrings the film, not allowing for anything other than simple narrative, when it could have gone so much further. Also, more could have been made of the smaller roles, with perhaps some judicious pruning of the slightly more redundant characters.
Slight, but good all the same, I would recommend this film for Winslet, Keitel, and Campion fans only.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful, unusual film that deserves cult status, 28 Aug 2013
I've seen that there are reviews in both directions but I have enjoyed rewatching this film since 2000 probably annually, and it doesn't fail to make me laugh but also moved and drawn in and remains on my very fussy hard to get on favourite films list.

I think I still consider this one of the funniest films I've seen - not the capers of the ridiculous henchmen, but for the quirks of a family who use festively decorated sheep as a dumb waiter, a father more interested in the camera than of the photo of her daughter in possible danger, vulnerable yet seductive Yvonne, and the fake resident Holy Man. There's also a feeling of realism here - the upset mother who is being as manipulative as she believes her daughter is (Julie Hamilton deserves a special mention); Ruth's anger at her family's betrayal and her resistance of the exiting programme; PJ's jealousy and attraction around Ruth pitted against loyalty to his partner and to professionalism. I do struggle with the brothers/Yani at times and their car roof riding gives little to the story. The book - also penned by the Campion sisters - explains a little more of the processes and relationship (which occasionally I miss)and is more explicit - it's not kissing that Ruth gives PJ a lesson in!

I enjoy this for being a film about ideas and relationship. There are long scenes of dialogue. It looks at religion without sounding expository in the writing sense, though it is expository in the theological sense. I think Ruth's description of finding absolute love though Baba is an appealing experience to aspire to, but she needs this encounter with another older man to help her complete her transformation. She claims her pretensions and hard edges have disappeared through Baba, but her behaviour with PJ shows they have yet to be shed. But as with all the best relationships and learning curves, this is a two way mutually beneficial exchange. Ruth is not the passive vessel, she undoes as much as she is undone. Both need their arrogance to be dissipated, to be vulnerable and open, and finally, Ruth learns compassion and PJ learns forgiveness and to not see his own painful cult experiences as a reason to decry faith altogether and make a career out of taking it from others.

So I'm very satisfied with the character arcs and the ending, and having a one year later epilogue makes sense. You half want PJ and Ruth to be together but realise it's probably not altogether likely and healthy, but the writers find a way of balancing both these sentiments - and utilising a great soundtrack.

Reading an academic paper on this, I realise this film really is very deep and symbolic.

The DVD commentary is a mixed blessing. It's a conversation between Jane Campion and Kate Winslet and feels like they are chatting unrehearsed, sometimes giving important insights and sometimes laughing and congratulating each other. It can feel like a semi private conversation. One remark that stood out is about the scene where Ruth dances with Meryl, the woman in the boobtube and dog collar at a club. It's a sensuous scene in a film that has been unabashed about unconventional sexual expression, if not implicitly celebratory. The scene with Meryl is actually no more than a brush of lips against mouth and ears, but Kate says that she found doing it hard but made herself as it's part of what the film requires and part of her job is to accept and be challenged. Compared to the full frontal scenes and weeing (and so much else of what she has done, and the emotional depth and range that the film requires) it's strange to baulk at that scene. It also felt like Ruth is being (as Jane says) chic and provocative, without any thought for Meryl, and that's angering for gay and bi women. To make out that a very short, little physical contact scene with another woman is hard to act in times when much of the world is working on supporting gay people (and Ruth's brother is gay) actually undermines the film and Kate Winslet, who I usually admire.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars erotic and amusing, 28 July 2011
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This review is from: Holy Smoke [DVD] (DVD)
Strangely compelling odd ball film which is definately different . Winslet is brilliant and extremely sexy and Keitel is creepy and definately unforgetable in his red dress ! This isnt necessarily an easy film to watch , who is programming who ? Who is the guru , who is the gullible ? A hidden gem . Definately left me with a lot to think about afterwards .
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great start, but soon tails off, 3 Jan 2011
By 
S. Meadows (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Holy Smoke [DVD] (DVD)
I have to say that this is a film of two very different halves. It began with a huge amount of promise, but there is a point about half way through when it starts to quickly descend and by about half an hour from the end we are presented with the sight of Harvey Keitel in lipstick and a dress, a scene of utter farce.

Starting in India we are briefly introduced to Ruth, who claims to have found enlightenment through a guru. Her family, based near Sydney, don't understand and as a kneejerk reaction assume that she has been brainwashed and make it their mission to bring her home and reclaim her heart. The scenes in India are by far the best in the film. The beauty of the country is contrasted with the buffoonery of Ruth's mother who acts a clueless tourist, fumbling her way through, totally ignorant of the local culture.

It is no spoiler to say that Ruth does end up back in Australia fairly shortly where the ficus then turns to winning over her mind. Enter "cult exiter" PJ Waters (played by Harvey Keitel) to deprogramme her. Here, the filmmaker hints at what could be a brilliant film, and explores it a little bit, but for some reason stops short and completely changes the story. We begin by asking the question "what is indoctrination?" When we meet Ruth, shortly after her mystical experience in India, she is happy and well-balanced. The formulaic nature of PJ's deprogramming technique is itself a form of brainwashing, an irony that seems lost on most of the characters. Waters attempts to show that all religions are inherently evil, by demonstrating with a video compilation featuring the likes of Jim Jones and the Manson family. This first half of the film is certainly worth 5 stars and is well worth watching, but the point at which the film tips comes shortly after this, when a fire is inexplicably started by one of the characters.

After this, the focus switches away from the ideas of religion, freedom of thought, the nature of belief and instead switches to sex. I shan't spoil too much by saying precisely what happens, but it is given far less thought than the earlier part of the film. For a serious drama, my credulity was stretched too far, as it slipped from believable to unrealistic to absurdity. The final third of the film (in my opinion) should have been radically changed. In places it was gratuitous, which is what makes the film an 18 certificate, when it need not have been.

A special mention has to be made of Kate Winslet's performance. Despite the silliness that the film descends into, she maintains her integrity throughout; overall, I think this is one of her strongest acting displays. Harvey Keitel is the real lynch-pin on whose shoulders the fate of the film rests. He starts off almost reprising his guru role of Mr Black from Reservoir Dogs: cool and unflappable. However, as the film goes on he seems to lose it, and by the time we see him in a red dress, he couldn't look more stupid than if he were wearing a giant sumo suit in the desert.

So would I recommend it? If it's a bargain bin, yeah, but if you fork out full price for it, then you'll be short-changing yourself.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Forgettable, 3 July 2014
By 
Stephen Morse (Staffordshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Holy Smoke [DVD] (DVD)
I bought this as I generally like Kate's work plus I thought it would be sensual. It is not. It is not believable and it's not even interesting. Oh well, you can't win them all !
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5.0 out of 5 stars Kate at her best, 7 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Holy Smoke [DVD] (DVD)
The film story line is a tad weird i found, but the acting was very good.Cant say I would watch it again but was mildly entertaining.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Title From Campion, 22 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Holy Smoke [DVD] (DVD)
Kate Winslet's character finds something deeper than her trash family in an Indian Swarmi.

Informed on by her friend, Winslet is coerced home to awaiting therapy; delivered by Harvey Keitel.

There are some great scenes between the two, and Campion's script delves into the relationships between men and women and finds a little about what consensus really means.

Made with Film 4 money - the cast and crew acquit themselves with honour.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Less than the sum of its parts, 14 Mar 2011
By 
Lendrick (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Holy Smoke [DVD] [2000] (DVD)
Jane Campion, Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet - what could possibly go wrong!

Sadly lots, but before that the good stuff; the film (and Kate) looks absolutely ravishing even on TV, must have been a real treat in the cinema. It start pretty well as Kates character is seduced by a cult in India, then brought home to Australia to meet Kietels sleazy macho exit counselor. Though even then there is a problem with tone, is this being played for laughs (Kates bizarre extended family) or are we meant to take it seriously?

Once Kate and Harvey are holed up in a secluded shack it downhill from there. The dialogue lumbers rather than sparkles and the relationship heads for a rather predictable conclusion. By the end it has a sort of car crash quality as Harvey stumbles around the desert in red lipstick and a minidress, chasing after Kate who is wearing shoes made out of books!

Has its moments, but not a film I could recommend to anyone
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not holy at all, 22 Sep 2010
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I wonder if Kate has ever considered keeping her clothes on for a film, (always assuming that it could be tastefully done and in keeping with the integrity and artistic balance of the film). This film has a flimsy storyline, which, although mildly entertaing, in part due to the quality of Winslet's acting,has very little substance, and probably relies on the mildly tittilating soft porn scenes to sell the dvd.
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