Holy Smoke, Director — Jane Campion

Critical Review and Bibliography by Jayne Pyke (12003999)


Director: Jane Campion

Scriptwriters: Anna Campion and Jane Campion

Cinematographer: Dion Beebe

Producer: Jan Chapman

Production Company: Miramax Films

Editor: Veronika Jenet


Kate Winslet - Ruth Barron

Harvey Keitel - PJ Waters

Julie Hamilton - Miriam (Mum)

Sophie Lee - Yvonne

Daniel Wyllie - Robbie

Paul Goddard - Tim

Tim Robertson - Gilbert (Dad)

George Mangos — Yani

Samantha Murray - Prue

Pam Grier - Carol

Release Dates

Italy: October 20, 1999

France: November 24, 1999

Los Angeles: December 1, 1999

New York: December 3, 1999

Denmark: December 17, 1999

Australia: December 26, 1999

The Netherlands: January 6, 2000

Canada: March 17, 2000

United Kingdom: March 31, 2000

Germany: December, 2000

Source: Discover Kate: Holy Smoke, 2000 (http://www.discoverkate.com/Holy_Smoke/).

Box Office Figures

Total gross: $1,758,780

Opening gross: $350,590

Source: Box Office Guru, 2001 (http://www.boxofficeguru.com/)


Creswell, T. 'Smoke Dreams', in Juice, 2000

Simmonds, D. 'Witches of Freedom', in Urban Cinefile (http://www.urbancinefile.com.au)

Kate Winslet

Adams, S. 'Steady as she goes', in Philadelphia City Paper, 2000

Lowing, R. 'House of Winslet', in The Sun Herald, 1999

White, L. 'Kate Expectations', in The Weekend Australian, 2001

Reviews and Essays

Adams, S. 'Holy Smoke', in Philadelphia City Paper, 2000

Bruzzi, S. 'Holy Smoke', in Sight and Sound, 2000

Carr, J. 'In the end, "Holy Smoke" crashes and burns', in Boston Globe, 2000

Clark, M. 'Holy Smoke: Fall under its spell', in USA Today, 2000

Cross, G. 'Winslet suffers in horrendous Holy Smoke!', in Daily Bruin, 1999

Dwyer, M. 'Holy Smoke', The Irish Times, 2001

Files, G. 'Steam from down under. Holy Smoke!', in Eye, 2000

Gleiberman ,O. 'Holy Smoke', in Entertainment Weekly, 1999

Graham, B. '`Holy' Possessed By Earthy Spirit Winslet, Keitel star in Campion's unusual tale' in San Francisco Chronicle , 2000

Hartl, J. 'Losing her religion: Kate Winslet shines through 'Holy Smoke'' in Seattle Times, 2000

Hoberman, J. 'That's the Spirit', in The Village Voice, 1999

Kathleen, M. 'Jane Campion's Passage to India', in Film Comment, 2000

Kauffmann, S. 'A Passion in the Desert', in The New Republic, 2000

Klawans, S. 'Rescuer Down Under', in The Nation, 2000

Maslin, J. ''Holy Smoke': For Enlightenment, Her Heart Will Go On' in The New York Times, 1999

Matthews, J. 'Holy Smoke', in Daily News Film Critic, 1999

McGrann, M. 'Holy Smoke', in The Times Literary Supplement, 1999

Morris, W. 'Gender roles hot, hazy in 'Holy Smoke', Winslet's fiery seeker plays love connection in satire', in San Francisco Examiner, 2000

Papageorgiou, I. 'Holy Smoke', in Cinema, 1999

Pullinger, K. 'Soul Survivor', in Sight and Sound, 1999

Ribeiro, L. 'Holy Smoke', in Baltimore City Paper, 2000

Sarris, A. 'Winslet Joins Keitel in Campion Sequel' in The New York Observer, 1999

Sullivan, K. 'Getting Naked', in Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, 2000

Savlov, M. 'Holy Smoke', in The Austin Chronicle, 2000

Thomas, K. 'Movie Review: Holy Smoke' in Los Angeles Times, 1999

Vice, J. 'Holy Smoke', in Deseret News, 2000

There are also many reviews for the film on the Internet including the following:

Anderson, J. 'Campion's Duet Complex Performances Give 'Smoke' Spark', in Newsday.com,


Axmaker, S. 'Holy Smoke', in Nitrate, 1999

Booth, P. 'Holy Smoke', in Orlando Weekly Movies, http://www.orlandoweekly.com/movies/reviews/review.asp?movie=560

Buckmaster, L. 'Holy Smoke', in in film Australia, http://infilmau.iah.net/reviews/holysmoke.htm

Cottrill, J. 'Hole Smoke', in Exclaim, 2000

Elizabeth, M. 'Holy Smoke', in Salon.com, 1999

Ebert, R. 'Holy Smoke!', in Chicago Sun-Times, http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/2000/02/021105.html

Ellingson, A. 'Holy Smoke', in Box Office Online Reviews, http://www.boxoffice.com/cgi/getreview.pl?where=Name&filename=All&terms=HOLY+SMOK

Horton, R. 'A Wild Psycho-Sexual Journey', in Film.com, http://www.film.com/film-review/1999/13079/18/default-review.html

Nichols, J. and Walsh, D. 'The filmmakers can't help themselves', in World Socialist Website 2000

Maccabee, L. 'Up in Smoke', in Renaissance Online Magazine http://www.renaissancemag.com/arts/movies/default.asp?article=0200, 2000

Mairs, G. 'Holy Smoke', in CultureVulture.net,

Singleton, G. 'Who's Blowing Smoke?' in Reel Movie Critic.com, 2000

Thomas, C. 'What's the story?', in Total Film Network, http://www.totalfilm.co.uk/reviewsStory.asp?ReviewId=154

Webster, B. 'Holy Smoke!', in Apollo Review, http://apolloguide.com/mov_fullrev.asp?cid=1950

The following non-English reviews and critiques were also found:

Bernard, J. 'Holy Smoke', in Première, http://www.premiere.fr/affiche/fichecritique/holy_smoke.html

Cutsem, E. 'Holy Smoke', in Cinopsis, http://www.cinopsis.com/critics/holysmok.htm

Feldvoss , M. 'Rauch und Nebel' in Neue Züürcher Zeitung, http://www.nzz.ch/ticket/ZH/KI/archiv/lb/film2000/film0006/fi000602holy_smoke.htm, 2000

Moviola, 'Humo Sagrado', http://www.geocities.com/moviola2/peliculas/humo_sagrado/humo_sagrado.html#arriba, 2000

Ravaschino, G. 'Humo Sagrado', in primerpano.com, 1999

Sééguret, O. 'Bouche àà Bush. En Australie, Jane Campion exalte le corps et le déésir. Rééussi.', in Libéération, http://www.liberation.com/cinema/9911/991124holy.html

Tylski, P. 'Une fuméée qui déépoussièère', in Cadrage: Le magazine du cinééma international, http://www.cadrage.net/films/holysmoke/holysmoke.html

On-Line Presence

Although not as strong as many more popular films, Holy Smoke has a noticeable Internet presence, including an official site from Miramax ( and a handful of unofficial sites, notably Discover Kate: Holy Smoke. Holy Smoke is also featured on the popular Internet Movie Database ( and Urban Cinefile website Many reviews for the film and interviews can also be found on the Internet.

Collecting the Information

Searching for information on this film at the Murdoch library proved to be unsuccessful. The film received a review in Sight and Sound, and an article about the film featured in a "Women Directors Special" in another issue of the journal. Film reviews were also be found in Film Comment and The Times Literary Supplement. These four articles were the full extent of information that could be found in the library.

The search for Holy Smoke on the Internet proved to be more successful, with an extensive collection of reviews on web pages, copies of reviews from other publications and a handful of web sites devoted to the film. Most of the information can be found on the Internet Movie Database. Countless web pages on the lead actors can also be found.

Critical Review

Holy Smoke begins with a young Australian, Ruth Barron (Winslet) joining a cult in Delhi, India. Her horrified friend, Prue (Murray) returns to the Sydney suburb of Sans Souci to tell her family. Ruth's mother, Miriam (Hamilton) travels to India to lure Ruth home, claiming Ruth's father, Gilbert (Robertson) is dying. Miriam suffers an asthma attack and is flown home on a stretcher, accompanied by her daughter.

Ruth's family hires P.J. Walter (Keitel), and American "cult exiter" to deprogramme Ruth. Ruth's family force her to spend three days in a deserted hut with P.J. Although strong in her faith at first, Ruth soon starts to break, and burns her sari. This is when the flim takes a twist and the rest of the film shows the power struggle and gender relations between Ruth and P.J.

The power struggle between Ruth and P.J. continues for the three days, ultimately dominated by Ruth who P.J. has now fallen for. Ruth ends up dressing P.J. in a red dress and lipstick and tries to escape. P.J. locks Ruth up in the boot of his car and drives away with her, but is discovered by her sister-in-law, Yvonne (Lee). Ruth runs off and is chased by a hallucinating P.J. who offers to return to the cult with her.

One year later Ruth is living in India with her mother, while P.J. and his partner, Carol (Grier) have twins. P.J. and Ruth continue to secretly correspond.

This film illustrates the power struggle between men and women, carrying a "Girl Power" message (this is a common theme for the feminist Campion) originally and creatively. The film also looks at issues of faith and dysfunctional families in a refreshing way. While cliches are not left out from this film it still represents these issues in an original and entertaining way and manages to look at the humorous side of serious issues, while still being a serious film.

Critical Uptake

Holy Smoke received mixed reviews from critics. While many critics highly appraised the films, with comments such as "an exquisite and unexpected film", "mature and finely polished" (Bruzzi, 2000) and
"The opening sequences alone can leave no-one in any doubt that Jane Campion has a great cinematic talent. Her use of framing, colour, movement, music/sound, camera and editing as tools to create mood, tone and intellectual involvement are beyond question" (Urban)",

others did not think so highly. Morris called the film "blatant and delirious" (2000) and many other critics were found to comment on the absurdity and disjointedness of the film (the film feels clipped and truncated (Morris, 2000)).

Many individual reviews were also mixed, with many reviewers criticising the film, while also claiming it's good points. ("Sometimes brilliant, sometimes sloppy" (Ribeiro, 2000)).

These opinions can be found in both Australia and overseas (especially in America). The opinions of Australian and international reviewers did not differ greatly, showing that Australian films can be appreciated (and unappreciated) overseas just as much as at home.

One thing that most reviewers seemed to have agreed on was the brilliance of Winslet's performance. Ribeiro wrote that she "infuses every frame with a gutsy rawness" (2000) and "delivers a tremendous performance with her familiar energy, candor, and range". Morris wrote "she has conviction that holds you in sway" (2000). Most reviews featured a similar comment praising Winslet's acting prowess.

Despite the existence of poor reviews, the general consensus from reviewers seemed to be positive. Even those pointing about problems with the film appraised the film overall, and while the film may not have been commercially successful, it received much critical acclaim.

Jane Campion received the Elvira Notari Prize and was nominated for the Golden Lion for Holy Smoke at the Venice Film Festival in 1999.


Jane Campion came up with the idea for Holy Smoke whilst on a flight back from India.

She first pitched the idea to Miramax co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, immediately after receiving the Best Original Screen Play Oscar for The Piano, in 1994. Weinstein didn't take his time thinking it over, and the film was fully financed before the screenplay had even been started.

The shoot took 13 weeks, and began with 6 weeks in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. The Halfway hut (where Ruth and PJ stay) was then disassembled and transported to a Sydney studio. There, on a closed set, Winslet and Keitel fine-tuned the intense scenes of the film According to producer, Jan Chapman, "This was the most painstaking and time-consuming period of the shoot."

They saved the most difficult part for last and headed for Pushkar, India, to meet up with an Indian crew and shoot the remaining scenes on the sweltering, crowded streets.

Source: Holy Smoke! Official Website (

Prior and Subsequent Work

Campion is an experienced and successful director, writer and producer whose first short film, Peel (1982), won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986. She co-wrote and directed her first feature film, Sweetie (1989), which won the Georges Sadoul prize in 1989 for Best Foreign Film, the LA Film Critics' New Generation Award in 1990, the American Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Feature, and the Australian Critics' Award for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress. Next she directed An Angel At My Table (1990), which won seven prizes, including the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1990. It was also awarded prizes at the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals, again winning the American Independent Spirit Award, and was voted the most popular film at the 1990 Sydney Film Festival. She wrote and directed The Piano (1993) which won the Palme D'Or at Cannes, making her the first woman ever to win the prestigious award. She also received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay at the 1993 Oscars, while also being nominated for Best Director. Campion also wrote Passionless Moments (1983), A Girl's Own Story (1984) and After Hours (1984). She was also a camera operator and cinematographer on Passionless Moments. Her directing credits include Mishaps of Seduction and Conquest (1984), After Hours, 2 Friends (1986) and Portrait of a Lady (1996). Campion also produced Passionless Moments, 2 Friends and Soft Fruit (1999). Her next film, In the Cut, which she directed and wrote, will be out in 2001.
Holy Smoke's cinematographer, Dion Beebe's filmography includes Crush (1992), Eternity (1994), What I Have Written (1995), Vacant Possession (1995), Floating Life (1996), Down Rusty Down (1996), 40,000 Years of Dreaming (1996), Praise (1998), My Own Country (1998), Forever Lulu (2000) and The Goddess of 1967 (2000).

Prior to Holy Smoke, the producer, Jan Chapman, had worked with Campion on 2 Friends and The Piano. Chapman also produced The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992), Love Serenade (1996) and Walk the Talk (2000). Chapman is also the producer for Lantana, which is currently in filming and will be released in 2001. As well as producing these films Chapman has worked in television and produced the following television series and telemovies: Displaced Persons (1984), Sweet and Sour (1984), Perhaps Love (1987), The Last Resort (1988) and Come in Spinner (1990).

Jane Campion wrote the script for Holy Smoke with her sister, Anna, whose experience does not match her sister's. They had previously worked together on Anna Campion's directorial debut, The Audition (1989), which Jane Campion and their mother, Edith Campion, featured in. This film won a BBC Student Drama Prize. Anna Campion then went on to direct Broken Skin (1991) which was in competition at Cannes. Anna Campion also wrote directed Loaded in 1994. Anna Campion also co-wrote the novel, Holy Smoke, with her sister.

Winslet's highly successful eclectic career began at a young age, coming from a theatrical family. Her first professional job was at 11, and her big break at 17 when she starred in Heavenly Creatures (1994). Like Holy Smoke, this film was not commercially successful, but received much critical acclaim. The following year Winslet was highly appraised in Sense and Sensibility, which she received a British Academy Award and an Oscar Nomination (Best Supporting Actress) for. Winslet followed this up with two more period pieces in 1996, Jude and Hamlet. In 1997 Winslet was catapulted into international superstardom with her leading role in the blockbuster, Titanic. Winslet received another Oscar nomination for this role, this time for Best Actress (making her the youngest actress to ever receive two Academy nominations). Despite the box office success of James Cameron's Titanic (grossing $600 million (Box Office Guru, 2001)), Winslet continued to make independent films and starred in Hideous Kinky in 1998. Her latest film was another period piece, Quills, which was released in 2000.

Keitel's career has been long and successful, after coming into prominence in Martin Scorcese's Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976). Prior to this Keitel had acted for around ten years, predominantly in the theatre. Despite roles in many of America's leading director's films, he faded into anonymity in the 1980's. Keitel re-emerged into stardom in 1992 with his role in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Keitel also starred in Jane Campion's The Piano. During the span of his career Keitel has appeared in over 100 movies and television shows, as well as producing five films, including Reservoir Dogs.

The rest of the cast features relative unknowns, although some faces may be familiar in Australia, notably Sophie Lee, who starred in the successful Muriel's Wedding (1994) and The Castle (1997). The only other international star in the film is Pam Grier (Jackie Brown (1997)), whose appearance at the end of the film as Harvey's partner seems completely out of place and unnecessary.

Source: Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com)

Position of Australian Film and Value

The dominance of Hollywood over national cinemas is evident in this film. An all Australian cast could have been used, but instead three international stars were hired. While it could be argued that Keitel was chosen as his character was American, the lead role of the AUSTRALIAN girl, Ruth, should have been played by an Australian, but instead a big international name was used. There could have been many reasons behind the casting of Winslet for this role, but it can easily be seen as simply using a big name to draw audiences (which subsequently failed), when an Australian actor could have done a just as good, if not better job (to Winslet's credit she did do an impressive performance and an outstandingly convincing accent). The inclusion of Pam Grier also seems completely unnecessary and it could be argued that she was simply used for her Hollywood star status, although the real reasons behind these casting choices are not known.
A Medium Sized English Language Cinema

Australian cinema can be seen as medium sized English language cinema. This means that "Australia has a minor place in the international trade" (O'Regan, 1996, p77). To gain a place in the international market Australian films must fit into the Hollywood style of films, while still appearing different enough to be recognised as a national cinema.
Holy Smoke does this, with many elements of Hollywood cinema evident. The story is not necessarily a uniquely Australian story. The idea of a young girl being drawn into a cult and the love connection that follows could be seen anywhere, as could the general setting. While some may argue that the outback is typically Australian, such a setting could be seen in many countries, including America. While the outback setting is generic, the more specific settings of the hut and the family's home can be seen as typically Australian. The house décor would look familiar to anyone that has seen another Australian film. This is because the lower to middle class suburban setting (complete with tacky décor) is used in most Australian films, and can be seen as a unique element of Australian films. The family can also be seen as typically Australian. The "crazy" family is interchangeable with the families presented in films such as Muriel's Wedding (1995) and The Castle (1997) and is how Australian families are presented in most Australian films. This is acknowledged by Americans with comments such as "Like so many Australian films (perhaps even a majority) Holy Smoke suggests that everyone in Australia falls somewhere on the spectrum between goofy and eccentric" (Ebert) and Ribeiro's discussion of the "Quirky families" (2000) in Australian film, especially Holy Smoke.

While the story presented in Holy Smoke could have been made in another country it is handled in the "quirky" way of Australian films. The plot turns in Holy Smoke, especially when the tables turn and Ruth becomes more powerful than P.J., dressing him up like a woman, can be seen as examples of quirkiness, and keep the film different from other cinemas. This quirkiness is also acknowledged by American critics, such as Ebert's comment "A smaller picture like this, shot out of the mainstream, has a better chance of being quirky, and quirky it is" (2000).

The commercial failure of this film also demonstrates Hollywood's dominance over the film market. Although finances by Miramax, Holy Smoke is essentially an independent film which despite its critical acclaim could not draw crowds. An Australian film of such a small size simply could not compete with the big American blockbusters that dominate the market.


Box Office Guru, http://www.boxofficeguru.com/, 2001

Bruzzi, S. 'Holy Smoke', in Sight and Sound, 2000

Ebert, R. 'Holy Smoke!', in Chicago Sun-Times, http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/2000/02/021105.html

Morris, W. 'Gender roles hot, hazy in 'Holy Smoke', Winslet's fiery seeker plays love connection in satire', in San Francisco Examiner, 2000

O'Regan, T. Australian National Cinema, Routledge, London, 1996

Ribeiro, L. 'Holy Smoke', in Baltimore City Paper, 2000

Urban, A. 'Holy Smoke', in Urban Cinefile, http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/article_view.asp?Article_ID=2739&Section=Reviews