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Hideous Kinky

Kate Winslet continues an uninterrupted line of fine performances with the modest yet affecting "Hideous Kinky," an episodic drama set in North Africa in hippie-dippy days but filtered through a sober and intelligent artistic eye.

With:
Julia - Kate Winslet Bilal - Said Taghmaoui Bea - Bella Riza Lucy - Carrie Mullan Santoni - Pierre Clementi Eva - Sira Stampe

Kate Winslet continues an uninterrupted line of fine performances with the modest yet affecting “Hideous Kinky,” an episodic drama set in North Africa in hippie-dippy days but filtered through a sober and intelligent artistic eye. Adapted by helmer Gillies MacKinnon’s brother Billy from Esther Freud’s autobiographical novel, pic embraces the heady atmosphere of Marrakesh and its environs c. 1972, as a single mom tries to juggle her own search for self-actualization with what’s best for her two young daughters. International arthouse prospects look reasonably good, but mainstream auds may find the somewhat choppy proceedings as jarring as pic’s curious title.

In a low-rent residence hotel in Marrakesh, 25-year-old Julia (Winslet), 6-year-old Lucy (Carrie Mullan) and 8-year-old Bea (Bella Riza) are scraping by on the meager proceeds from hand-sewn dolls and the occasional check from the girls’ father. Dad — who never technically married Julia — is a poet back in London involved with at least one other woman by whom he also has a child. Unwilling to share the man she loved and determined to offer her kids the freedom and adventure lacking in stifling English life, Julia had pulled up stakes and moved to Morocco — with only the sketchiest notion of how to pay the bills.

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The two girls are slightly embarrassed by their overly trusting, quasi-spiritual mom. While Lucy is basically malleable and fun-loving, and barely remembers her father, the imperious and perspicacious Bea craves the discipline and limits of “normal” life. Much of pic’s humor derives from the fact that, although Julia is a committed, caring parent, the precocious Bea seems to outstrip her in maturity and insight.

When the girls introduce their mom to a streetwise acrobat, Bilal (Said Taghmaoui), there’s an immediate sexual spark, and the hunky young Moroccan is soon sharing their modest quarters. Bilal is a bit of a con man, and there are hints that prior escapades may have landed him in trouble with the law; but he is also a gentle soul, with a genuine affinity for the two girls so badly in need of a father. When his assumption that all Europeans are wealthy is shattered, Bilal does his best to provide for his struggling, surrogate family.

Urged on by her friend Eva (Sira Stampe), Julia resolves to study in Algiers with the most revered Sufi master at a school of “the annihilation of the ego” — a project that would be easier if Julia’s finances weren’t already annihilated. Her philosophy tends toward “God will provide” — which fits into the dominant culture. But when the going gets roughest, it’s Bilal who has to step in for the tardy Allah.

Awash in local color and attuned to the contrast between wide open spaces and the teeming city, pic conveys the constant stimulation of the senses that Morocco and Algeria offer. And as in James Ivory’s “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries,” also based on an autobiographical novel by a woman writer of distinguished parentage, pic weighs in on the cultural advantages and emotional upheaval of straddling two cultures, along with the consequences of giving children total freedom when what they crave is guidance and routine.

The sturdy and unfettered Winslet, unglamourous yet radiant in flower-child mode, scores as the young mother whose motivations are sincere but who’s often oblivious to what’s really going on with the locals and her offspring. Taghmaoui, the French thesp of Moroccan descent who burst on the scene in “La haine,” has the requisite energy and allure to charm both Julia and her daughters, and the moppet actors are an unqualified delight. Veteran Pierre Clementi provides a wry perf as a European dandy who invites Julia and her girls to his villa, with unforeseen consequences.

Score whips up pleasing North African rhythms interspersed with the sometimes perfect, sometimes overbearing Anglo-American pop hits that were the soundtrack to nomadic youth of the ’60s.

Genesis of title is never overtly explained: it’s the result of a word game in which the girls take turns juxtaposing unlikely words. By pic’s final frames, “hideous kinky” has taken on a bittersweet signifigance.

Hideous Kinky

British-French

Production: An AMLF release (in France) of a The Film Consortium and BBC Films presentation, in association with The Arts Council of England, of a Greenpoint Films (U.K.)/L Films, AMLF (France). (International sales: The Sales Co., London.) Produced by Ann Scott. Executive producers, Simon Relph, Mark Shivas. Co-producers, Emmanuel Schlumberger, Annabel Karouby, Marina Gefter. Directed by Gillies MacKinnon. Screenplay, Billy MacKinnon, based on the novel by Esther Freud.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), John de Borman; editor, Pia Di Ciaula; music, John Keane; production designer, Louise Marzaroli, Pierre Gompertz; art director, Jon Henson; costume designer, Kate Carin; sound (Dolby), Bruno Charier; assistant directors, Stephen Wolfenden, Mohamed Nesrate; casting, Susie Figgis. Reviewed at Dinard Festival of British Cinema, France, Oct. 2, 1998. (Also in London Film Festival.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With: Julia - Kate Winslet Bilal - Said Taghmaoui Bea - Bella Riza Lucy - Carrie Mullan Santoni - Pierre Clementi Eva - Sira StampeWith: Abigail Cruttenden, Ahmed Boulane, Michelle Fairley, Kevin McKidd.
(English, Arabic and French dialogue)

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