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HIDEOUS KINKY(director: Gillies MacKinnon; screenwriters: Billy MacKinnon/based on the novel by Esther Freud; cinematographer: John de Borman; editor: Pia Di Ciaula; cast: Kate Winslet (Julia), Said Taghmaoui (Bilal), Bella Riza (Bea), Carrie Mullan (Lucy), Pierre Clémenti (Santoni), Abigail Cruttenden (Charlotte), Ahmed Boulane (Ben Said), Sira Stampe (Eva), Amidou (Sufi Sheikh), Michelle Fairley (Patricia); Runtime: 99; AMLF; 1998-UK)
“The film’s strength is in how all the characters are shown for what they are and no one is that good or that bad.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

There must be some unwritten rule that states, one gets enlightenment not in the way one expects to get enlightenment. In the exotic Morocco of 1972, a 25-year-old English hippie, Julia (Winslet), the mother of two sweet young girls, the 6-year-old Lucy (Carrie) and the 8-year-old Bea (Bella), stays there for a year. The self-absorbed mother is oblivious to how her daughters might be adjusting to this foreign experience while she is searching for a change of life from her unfaithful poet husband (she is not officially married to him) and from her cold one-room London flat, and is looking for the eternal truth in the sunny climate of Marrakech. At least, she says she is, as she is making some attempt to contact a Sufi sheikh who has all the answers. She has not planned things out too carefully having no money and the trip doesn’t seem like it’s much fun; it’s more like a misadventure, with some romance thrown in with a local Moroccan for good measure.

Drugs had become a world-wide youthful phenomena during this period, where many Westerners came to Morocco to smoke the good hashish and to live the ‘good life’ cheaply, and to be in a spot where they did not have to worry about being hassled by the local authorities. Even though drugs are illegal there, they are easy to obtain. But this is not shown as one of her reasons for being there. In this film, the subject of drugs is never broached, only hinted at in an off-handed but slurring way. The hippie commune is shown in a negative light, whose members are strumming on their guitars and bragging about the hits of acid they have taken. Even the ones coming here for spiritual reasons, to follow the mystical Sufis, seem lost. They are following a culture that is far different from the one at home.

The film is based on the novel that contained the autobiographical experiences of Sigmund Freud’s grand-daughter, Esther Freud, who traveled here in the 1960s with her mother and sister. It is written by the director’s brother, who has previously directed Regeneration, The Playboys, and Trojan Eddie.

The title of the film comes from the squealing giggles that saying hideous kinky gives Julia’s little girls.

With Julia strapped for cash and not receiving the check her husband often forgets to send her, she is prevented from seeing the greatest living Sufi who is located in Algeria; so instead, she meets an acrobat street performer in the bazaar, Bilal (Said Taghmaoui). He becomes her lover, taking the place of her husband as a father figure for the girls. The girls readily accept him and there is no big deal made about their openly sexual relationship, but the girls really don’t know what to make of the relationship. It especially bothers Bea, who is embarrassed by her mother’s loose attitude and wants to go home. Things go surprisingly sour when Bilal takes them to stay in his hometown small village. That’s where Bilal’s wife lives. This scene didn’t make too much sense as to why he would take them there knowing the situation, unless the uneducated man was totally uneducated in the customs of his people.

The family is now stuck without money in a backward remote area of Morocco trying to decide what to do next, as they hitch a ride with a truck driver who nearly kills them when he falls asleep by the wheel. Lucy takes it all in stride and has a good disposition for travel while Bea just wants to go to a school and learn something, and be a ‘normal’ girl.

The beauty of Marrakech is matched by the terrific performance of Kate Winslet. The film accurately encapsulates the timeless city and its bustling street scenes, expansive views, illustrious mosques, and grand sunsets. Kate enacts what it was like to be a Westerner who is living out the counter-cultural experiences while hoping to gather her sensibilities again. She went home, as many a drop-out reluctantly had to do after running out of money and purpose.

The background music from groups like America and Jefferson Airplane, provided further nostalgia for this easy to look at film. The only hope in this adventure was that the two innocent girls would not be permanently harmed. Their adventure should be reserved only for those of college age or older who choose to go there for themselves.

Kate reflects on what the Sufi guru tells her, whom she finally meets and is driven to tears in his presence. He is the guru who replaced the one who died and is grounded in reality, something she is not grounded in. He tells her that her tears are memories — a gift from God.

The film’s weakness was in its risk free tenor (she was there basically just escaping from her intolerable situation). The story line about a helpless single-parent, searching for answers to her mundane problems in Morocco, is mixed in with her desire for self-knowledge. The mystical culture of Sufism a teaching that has a lot to offer its followers, contrary to the impression the film might give, seemed to pass her by. Her knowledge of that trip is only surface deep, at best. She perhaps would have been better off not taking the kids along and, perhaps, she would have been better off smoking some hashish; and, to have been less assured of herself but to have behaved more like a hippie, maybe then she wouldn’t have been so uptight all the time and had some fun on her journey. After all, in a mystical trip it is the journey itself that is the trip.

The film’s strength is in how all the characters are shown for what they are and no one is that good or that bad, or judged too harshly for their shortcomings. Bilal is unreliable, but is capable of generosity. The little girls are precocious, but lovable. Julia, the cornerstone the film is built on, is a mother who cares about the children, but she is someone who doesn’t know how to take care of them without unintentionally harming them. She was trying to escape from reality and that by returning to London, she has another chance to see if she can find what she wants in this world or whatever world she is looking for. This is a very Freudian way to look at things, as this sudden realization about herself puts an end to her Eastern hippie odyssey, at least, for the time being. And, after all is said and done who’s to say if the children are also not better off for surviving their experiences, just like she probably was!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”