** 1/2 Stars
(UK 1999) Rated R
Kate Winslet, Said Taghmaoui, Bella Riza, Carrie Mullan
Directed by Gillies MacKinnon
Writing credits: Esther Freud (novel), Billy MacKinnon
Stratosphere Films * 98 minutes
The latest Kate Winslet vehicle, HIDEOUS KINKY (from a novel by Esther Freud based on her childhood with her adventurous mother), is neither. What it is, however, is a gorgeous travelogue of the beauty and fascination of Morocco, and yet another bravura performance by The Divine Miss Winslet. Unfortunately, what it is not, is a compelling story with compelling characters.
Winslet is Julia, hippie mother of Bea (age eight) and Lucy (age six), who abandons her poet husband in dreary London in 1972 to bum around Marrakech, determined to give her girls an upbringing different from her own. She is also on a spiritual quest, hoping to meet a Sufi master and hopefully, achieve "the annihilation of the ego." The trio becomes acquainted with Bilal (Said Taghmaoui), and he becomes an intermittent surrogate father to the girls and lover to Julia.
Lucy, the younger daughter, seems to enjoy their vagabond existence, but Bea answers the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with the answer: "Normal." She is the voice of sense in the family, and often is forced into the role of parent to her own mother. Seeing the spiritual trances of those who follow the Sufi way, she is concerned about what will happen to her mother -- and to herself, after Julia's spiritual quest is complete. When the family is taken in by Santoni, a European expatriate, and his two friends, the girls are delighted by the stable, civilized environment -- particularly a box of corn flakes. Bea decides to stay behind while Julia and Lucy go to Algiers to visit the Sufi.
Julia discovers that her spiritual quest is does not have the outcome she'd envisioned, and returns, disillusioned, only to find that Bea has run off, eventually surfacing in a Christian orphanage.
Winslet, sporting a healthy looking tan and for once, no corset, is as lush and sensual as Marrakech itself. She looks spectacular and conveys a genuine warmth, but not even an actress of Winslet's ability and presence can make Julia a likeable person. While she is portrayed as a loving mother, she is also hopelessly immature and self-involved. The conflict between her "thirst for truth" and her simultaneous decrying of, and embrace of, earthly pleasures makes her spiritual quest as self-indulgent as her chosen lifestyle. Perhaps some annihilation of her ego IS in order.
Winslet has certainly been known to generate some serious heat with her male co-stars, but Julia's relationship with Bilal, which has so much potential to pack a serious erotic wallop against its lush backdrop, falls curiously flat. Said Taghmaoui is tawny, buff, and sexy in a liquid-eyed young Omar Sharif kind of way, but there's very little chemistry between the two. Perhaps that's just what happens when you fall in love with the third assistant director on the set.
Next to such a formidable talent as Winslet, Bella Riza and Carrie Mulan, as the daughters, more than hold their own. They avoid the typical child actor schtick, and are delightfully natural, with a lovely rapport with their screen mother. Carrie Mulan has the beauty of an Edwardian era doll, and while her character seems to genuinely enjoy the unpredictability and adventure of her unconventional childhood, she achieves a genuine poignancy when she plaintively asks Bilal, "Are you my daddy now?" But it is Bella Riza, as a child prematurely forced to grow up by the irresponsibility of her mother, who is ultimately the more affecting. When mom breaks down after their father sends them the wrong Christmas package, it is up to Bea to pick up the pieces.
The other star of this film is John de Borman's exquisite cinematography. De Borman has clearly grown up at the knee of Eduardo Serra (WINGS OF THE DOVE, JUDE). He expertly uses varying shades of gold, orange, red, and yellow to illustrate the warmth and sensuality of the stucco and stone buildings of Marrakech and the lush textiles and textures of the interior decor. He uses light filtering with similar effectiveness -- a nighttime festival strongly echoes Serra's Venice-at-night in WINGS OF THE DOVE.
HIDEOUS KINKY is worth a look, if only for some excellent performances by Winslet and the girls, and as a breathtaking travelogue. But I found it a disturbing film -- I kept envisioning 35-year-old Bea, sitting in a therapist's office, trying to overcome the damage of having to parent her own mother at the tender age of eight.
HIDEOUS KINKYofficial site
HIDEOUS KINKY trailer
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