Holy Smoke!

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Holy Smoke!
Holy smoke ver1.jpg
Original poster
Directed byJane Campion
Produced byJan Chapman
Written byAnna Campion
Jane Campion
Music byAngelo Badalamenti
CinematographyDion Beebe
Edited byVeronika Jenet
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
  • 4 September 1999 (1999-09-04) (Venice)
  • 26 December 1999 (1999-12-26) (Australia)
Running time
115 minutes
Box office$1,765,545

Holy Smoke! is a 1999 Australian drama film directed by Jane Campion, who co-wrote the screenplay with her sister Anna. It premiered at the 56th Venice International Film Festival and was shown at the New York Film Festival and the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival before being released theatrically.

Plot synopsis[edit]

During a trip to India, Ruth Barron has a spiritual awakening and embraces the teachings of a guru named Baba. Back home in the Sydney suburb of Sans Souci, her parents are appalled to learn their daughter now answers to the name Nazni and has no intention of returning. They concoct a tale about her father Gilbert having had a stroke and being on the verge of death, and her mother Miriam travels to India in hopes of convincing her to come home, with no success until she suffers a serious asthma attack. Ruth agrees to accompany her on her return flight.

Miriam arranges a reunion with Gilbert, who supposedly is recuperating in the Outback, where she finds out that her father is not sick, and it was all scheme to bring her back. She finds herself in a situation where her family has planned an intervention with a known exit counselor who deprograms members of religious cults. After a kerfuffle, she agrees to her family’s treatment, only if they will let her return to India when the treatment session is done.

In a remote cabin, exit counselor P.J. Waters isolates Ruth, separates her from her sari and religious props, challenges her faith in Baba, and slowly wears her down. As she begins to weaken, Waters finds himself sexually attracted to her, and in time Ruth allows him to seduce her. She then turns the tables on him, as she discovers her sexuality allows her to make mincemeat of his machismo.



The film was made on location in Paharganj in Delhi[1] and Pushkar in India and Sydney and Hawker in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Interiors were filmed at Fox Studios Australia.

Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack is performed by artists including Annie Lennox, Alanis Morissette, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond and Chloe Goodchild.

Critical reception[edit]

Holy Smoke! received mixed reviews from critics, where it holds a 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 82 reviews.

In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin said, "As Holy Smoke moves from its early mix of rapture and humor into [the] more serious, confrontational stage, it runs into trouble . . . the screenplay . . . threatens to become heavy-handedly ideological beneath its outward whimsy . . . it turns out to be more fundamentally conventional than might be expected . . . Shot so beautifully by Dion Beebe that it seems bathed in divine light, [the film] has a sensual allure that transcends its deep-seated ponderousness. The richly colored Indian scenes have a hallucinogenic magic, while exquisite desert vistas radiate an attunement with nature. And the steamily claustrophobic look of the intense scenes between Ms. Winslet and Keitel have an eroticism that will not surprise viewers of The Piano."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "It's a little surprising, although not boring, when it turns from a mystic travelogue into a feminist parable . . . Winslet and Keitel are both interesting in the film, and indeed Winslet seems to be following Keitel's long-standing career plan, which is to go with intriguing screenplays and directors and let stardom take care of itself . . . A smaller picture like this, shot out of the mainstream, has a better chance of being quirky and original. And quirky it is, even if not successful."[3]

In Variety, David Rooney stated, "Original in every sense, this often difficult film about family, relationships, sexual politics, spiritual questing, faith and obsession further explores the director's abiding fascinations in excitingly unconventional terms. Mainstream audiences may be unwilling to surrender to the pull of a unique journey that strips away its characters' masks and refuses easy solutions, and many men especially will find it too confronting. But others will embrace its thematic and stylistic complexity as qualities all too rare in contemporary cinema."[4]

Bob Graham of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "Holy Smoke sometimes has the mentality, for better or worse, of an encounter group. It also has a terrific subject and the spirit to bring it off."[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]

At the Venice Film Festival, Jane Campion and Kate Winslet won the Elvira Notari Prize. Campion was nominated for the Golden Lion but lost to Zhang Yimou for Not One Less.

Box office[edit]

Holy Smoke! grossed $1,380,029 at the box office in Australia.[6]

The film grossed $1,758,780 in the US and $1,821,943 in foreign markets for a worldwide box office of $3,580,723.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Titanic Rose fails to bloom in Paharganj". Indian Express. 23 September 1998.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Maslin, Janet (8 October 1999). "'Holy Smoke': For Enlightenment, Her Heart Will Go On". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (11 February 2000). "Holy Smoke!". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  4. ^ Rooney, David (7 September 1999). "Holy Smoke". Variety. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  5. ^ Graham, Bob (11 February 2000). "`Holy' Possessed By Earthy Spirit". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  6. ^ "Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  7. ^ "Holy Smoke". TheNumbers.com. Retrieved 16 April 2010.

External links[edit]