Augie's real life, it turns out, lies in the 4000 pictures he has taken over the years at precisely 8:00 a.m. at the corner of 3rd Street and 7th Avenue.
"Smoke" is a small jewel nestled in a field of rocks. Paul Auster's beautiful set of interlocking stories is directed with affecting subtlety by Wayne Wang and acted by a notable cast that creates an extraordinary feeling of life as it is really lived.
Auggie (Harvey Keitel) presides with humility over the cigar shop that has become a small culture within the Brooklyn neighborhood that surrounds it. At the moment we join them, writer Paul Benjamin (William Hurt) is expounding on the subject of how to weigh smoke--a conversational contribution both weightless and typical of the atmosphere that draws the regulars. Chatter is the medium of their connection.
The smoke shop offers its customers both diversion and friendship. It is there that all the stories connect: Augie and Bill, Bill and Rashid, Augie and Ruby, Bill and April. They walk through each other's lives with gentle manners and decent intentions. Each, in some particular way of his own, takes care of the other. Each gives a gift that changes another's life.
The tone is set early on by a sublime scene that shakes the audience by the shoulders and says, "If you want to understand this film, slow down and listen." Augie's real life, it turns out, lies in the 4000 pictures he has taken over the years at precisely 8:00 a.m. at the corner of 3rd Street and 7th Avenue. On the night he shows his albums to Bill, Bill responds, "They're all the same." Only when Augie urges him to really look, does Bill slow down enough to see that his friend's life's work has been to capture the life of the corner outside his shop.
In 4000 photographs of the same spot, Augie shows him how to tell the seasons from the way the light hits the earth, how to tell the weather from the clothes people are wearing. In a metaphor for the film itself, Bill finally sinks peacefully into the process just as we sink slowly into the unusual rhythm of the story. It is a tale of unarticulated caring, and by the end of it, we know everyone very well.
This is a story not of events but of daily life. A son searches for his father; a man does a good Christmas deed; an ex-wife turns up after 18 years. All of this pedestrian stuff passes, somehow, through the orbit of Augie, who makes people feel good without their ever knowing he is doing it. As a matter of fact, even Augie doesn't know he's doing it.
The players in this graceful movie are all, it seems, in thrall to the mood of author Auster and director Wang. Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker, Stockard Channing, and Harold Perrineau Jr. take great care not to strike a loud note in this gentle movie. This is what real actors do when a good writer hands them a fine script.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 491
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h52m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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