Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kate Winslet, Said Taghmaoui, Bella Riza, Carrie Mullan
Director:  Gillies MacKinnon
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1, 16x9 Enhanced
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Theatrical Trailers
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  October 26, 1999

Film ***1/2

The question is, when one has starred in the biggest money making blockbuster in film history, what does one do for an encore?  Milk it for everything it's worth?  Command a nice $15-20 million salary to have your name put above the title of some Hollywood piece of fluff that no one would probably go to except to see you in it?  Why not?

Well, in Kate Winslet's case, the answer would be more akin to, “why bother”.  Her star has been soaring ever since her incredible debut in Heavenly Creatures…she's been nominated for Oscars twice, and yes, there was that little disaster pic called Titanic that flung the doors of opportunity wide open for this talented young actress.

“I care nothing about being a movie star,” she's been quoted as saying, and the proof of that is certainly in her follow up project, a modest little character driven piece called Hideous Kinky.  No big budgeted romantic comedy for her…instead, she opted to be in a small European film and play a rather challenging character.  She had no desire to look glamorous and simply emote.  She wanted to act.  And act she does.

This is a difficult film to categorize.  It's a free spirited and rather exotic romp through Morocco in the early 70's.  It flows without much of a plot…in fact, there seems to be no real beginning or ending, just a middle, which nicely reflects the movie's look at life.  There are no simple resolutions.  It's a story about living life as an adventure, and all the pros and cons that go with it.

The movie is based on a true story.  Kate plays Julia, a spirited hippie-esque mother of two who abandons life in London on a whimsical notion and finds herself in Marrakech with her children, Bea and Lucy (Riza and Mullan).  She wants for herself and her family a life free of discipline and rigidity.  In some respects, her romantic sensibility is charming and appealing.  There is a certain feeling of freedom that radiates from her lifestyle, and indeed, it might have been a little more accepted in the 70's than today.  But it's not to hard to see also that this is an irresponsible way to live, especially for a mother.  From time to time, it's clear that the kids don't always know where their next meal is coming from, or just where they'll lay their heads down that night.

Part of the story revolves around Julia's relationship with a street performer, Balil (Taghmaoui).  Again, romantic on the surface, but he doesn't have much financial security either, and when this makeshift family sets off on the road, it's clear that issues of money and responsibility will have to weigh in sooner or later.

The elder child, Bea, is somewhat of a foil to her mother.  Though we see her play and frolic like any child, her moments of seriousness ring through with a clarity that Julia's not ready to deal with.  Bea doesn't appreciate the looseness of their lives.  She wants to be grounded, go to school, have a real home.  In other words, she wants to be normal.

It's rather nice how certain aspects of the story are presented as though through the eyes of the children.  Balil, for example, is warm, funny, and loving, and that's how we see him most of the time, though it's hinted at that he may have some kind of criminal background.  It's mentioned, but never really examined or explored to any depth.  The kids don't care.  And we don't much, either.

As mentioned, the film is driven by the characters and their relationships with one another.  It doesn't follow a strict line of plot.  It's more about people coming to terms with who they are, and what they want, and to a degree, deciding what to do about their own limitations.  The movie represents a rather special period in the lives of all involved, and though there's obviously more story behind and more ahead than what's contained herein, the focus is on these moments, and the magic and wonder of the life inside of them.

This is an extraordinary journey that's never dull, and as much a feast for the eyes as for the heart and mind.  It is superbly acted across the board, and should stand as a triumph for Kate Winslet both as an actress and as a woman with enough guts and integrity to take a risk for the sake of her art.  Consider this film was out in Europe for almost a year before surfacing in the United States, and then it never really got off the ground here.  There were so few prints that many cities never screened this movie, and those that did were lucky to have it for a week or two before it was boxed up and shipped to the next town.  Numbers-wise, it hardly seemed like the ideal way to follow Titanic.  But artistically, it was inarguably the right choice.

Video ****

I mentioned this film is a feast for the eyes, and it translates beautifully on this DVD.  Composed of mostly outdoor photography, this picture is an absolute banquet of rich colors and warm lighting.  Nothing is lost on compromised in this transfer…images are sharp and clear, there's no grain or distortion, all colors are perfectly rendered and contained.  It's simply gorgeous. 

Audio ***

The soundtrack is only in Dolby Stereo, but it's clean, and has moments of good dynamic range.

Features **

A total of four different trailers.


Hideous Kinky may not have had much chance to attract an audience during it's brief theatrical run, but with this fantastic and beautifully presented DVD, you can at least enjoy this remarkable and unusual cinematic treat at home.