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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Revisiting a journey taken

Talking with Jane Campion over the phone, it was hard to tell which of the two was more difficult: navigating the time-lag created by a poor connection, or trying to get the director to recall the creative process of four years' past, especially since she was just finishing up postproduction on her latest work, "In The Cut," a romantic thriller set in New York City and starring Meg Ryan and Jennifer Jason Leigh that is due for release later this year.

News photo
Director Jane Campion

JT: How do you feel about "Holy Smoke" now, with a few years' perspective on it?

JC: I haven't looked at it since I made it. I don't tend to took at my films once I've finished. I think as a filmmaker, you tend to put all your heart in it, when there's something new to be done to it, or fixed, or improved. But afterward, it's really like navel-gazing, it doesn't mean anything to you anymore. Though it's had a long life on TV and video -- a lot of people have told me it's meant a lot to them. What I was trying to do was tell a story about someone exploring the spiritual realm, but one that wasn't simple, that didn't have any closed answers. . . . Really talk about how dangerous and dynamic and exciting beliefs are. And how a family can get really freaked out by one of its members thinking a different way, even though they themselves don't know what to think.

JT: I think a lot of people here will relate to the film. Almost everyone knows a traveler like Ruth.

JC: But not just travelers. We're in a unique time in the world where a lot of people don't know what to think or believe anymore, particularly in the West, and probably Japan, too. Christianity isn't vibrant anymore, except for people who have refound Jesus in some new form of Christianity . . .

JT: Like George W. Bush?

JC: Yeah, exactly. And found it in such a way that it allows them to break all the commandments! (Chuckles)

JT: What exactly did you base Ruth's mystical experience on?

JC: The beliefs that Ruth develops, I don't think she understands them herself all that well. I think it's basically "Hindu fusion." We didn't want to hit on any specific group. She just has an instinctive feeling that this is good, this is right.

JT: What were your own experiences in India like?

JC: I went to India 15 years ago. While I was there, I met an old Indian lady who became my yoga guru. And I'm really good friends with her family still. I just went back last Christmas with my daughter, to have her learn yoga, too. So I am a yoga regular, every day. It's really important, for me at least, to have this maintenance in my life, to recognize that the mind is this crazy instrument, and to break that continuity of endless internal babble.

JT: Do you consider yourself closer in spirit to P.J. or Ruth?

JC: "It's funny, because my sister [Anna] and I wrote [the story] together, and she was very much more of the P.J. variety, whereas I've got a firm conviction in myself that there is something there, some spiritual way of understanding ourselves. But we would argue quite a lot about these things.

JT: Did you write the role of P.J. with Keitel in mind?

JC: I did enjoy working with him on "The Piano" and he said to me he'd love to work together again. And when this character came up, my first choice was him, as a person. I was nervous when I showed it to him, about whether he'd find the character too much, y'know? Because you really have to put your ego aside when you're playing a character like this; especially for an older man.

JT: Was it just a power trip, or what other idea were you trying to express when Ruth makes P.J. wear a dress late in the film?

JC: I can't remember! (Laughs) I think she was trying to get him to see how hypocritical the male-female thing is. Like, he wouldn't think anything of being attracted to someone her age, however, to see himself as a woman, he would never be attracted to someone his own age!

JT: Especially with a mustache.

JC: Yeah (laughs), but there was a sort of cute, auntie-ish quality he had with his dress and makeup on. For the P.J. character, though, this would not be "hot" or "sexy." And it was a power game and what he was trying to point out was that when you have a power game, you don't have any love.

JT: Strength is often shown as control, power -- but you show it as surrender.

JC: Ruth feels contempt for her family, who are always judging and concerned with appearances, whereas P.J. actually went a long way with her. He put himself out there, at risk, completely and absolutely, even though he behaved inappropriately with her. So it's a pretty deep story where it's difficult to make classic, clear-cut judgments.

JT: Do they find love in the end, or is it something else?

JC: I always looked at it like two soldiers on opposite sides, who've exhausted themselves, but have respect for each other and the journey they took together. I think it takes a lot of courage to do that. The formula for love, really, is courage. You need quite a lot of it. And trust. And faith. You have to know yourself, be brave. It's about learning, a journey of mutual exploration. And you have to accept that no two people are on exactly the same journey. People talk about love, romantic love, in a fairly loose way these days, but I think it's quite a hard thing to achieve real love with another person.

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