Kate Winslet is an Australian girl caught up in a mystical Indian cult. Harvey Keitel is an American "cult deprogrammer" who takes her into the Outback for 3 days to get her un-brainwashed.
Though Holy Smoke's first act is excellent - Winslet's dreamy vision of India, compared with her desperate mother's impressions of filth and poverty when she arrives to drag her daughter back home, is a potent contrast - it quickly bogs down into a tiresome "actor's workshop" film, filled with philosophical chatter, pointless sexual table-turning, and murky statements about love and control.
I like Jane Campion's work (with the exception of Portrait of a Lady, which was duller than dirt), and I was really disappointed. The story has an annoying tendency to set things up with no follow-through. Things just happen. The film is supposed to be all about Winslet and Keitel's characters' relationship, but it takes so many frankly unbelievable and senseless twists and turns that I wound up uninterested in the whole affair.
Campion and her cowriter sister want to say something about how the way we live and love is itself "cultish" behavior, and how no relationship is as simple as black and white. But I didn't buy it. Winslet, at least, is quite a believable character (her first contemporary role after seven period films!) - she reminds me exactly of a girl I met from Down Under who was by turns flaky, arrogant, tender, confused, and nasty. It's too bad the actress is swallowed up by a swamp of a story.