Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's Smoke (1995) is one film I rewatch during the Christmas season every year since I first saw it. Though not a family film (it's Rated R for language), Smoke is an ensemble piece starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Harold Perrineau, Stockard Channing, and Forrest Whitaker, among others. A quirky film, its themes include the many faces of redemption, the power of family and the quiet power of compassion. If you see it at the rental store, or on Netflix, don’t be put off by the goofy American edition DVD case (seen here) which promotes this film as a slapsticky comedy with aristocratic-appearing celebrity cigar smokers. While there are some humorous moments, and many cigars are "smoked," this film and its characters have much more going on below the surface. The slipcase developed for release in Japanese(?) markets (pictured to the right) offers a more evocative (not to mention holiday themed) image: this is a moving multi-character piece.
I’m not exactly sure how it is I first got turned on to this film, almost ten years ago now, but after having purchased a VHS copy of it in a supermarket one day on my way to work (at one point VHS movies could be had for two bucks when store were converting their rental choices to DVD), I watch this film each year at just around this time. Taken as a whole, Smoke is not easily pigeon-holed as a “holiday film” (which is a good thing), but the values it eschews do seem to hit home, especially at this time of year.
The final five minutes, though, are more overtly holiday-themed which helps to make it a more “obvious” holiday suggestion. Originally published as "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story" by writer (and the co-director and screenplay writer for Smoke) Paul Auster (a version of which is available here), the final moments of the film show what is told earlier in the film. The set-up is this: two of the primary characters, Auggie and Paul, are having lunch. Paul is a writer who needs to submit an essay to the New York Times for its holiday edition and he looks to Auggie (the cigar store owner whose own story is intertwined with those of the other characters) for a suggestion. The emotional impact of Auggie’s story is further punctuated by the Tom Wait’s song, "You Dream," which accompanies it.
Great stuff, and just one of many evocative scenes from an excellent film.
Originally posted on December 24, 2011