By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated April 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Kate Winslet, luscious in a brilliantly colored caftan and flushed from the heat of an African sun, makes a beautiful hippie, circa 1972, in Hideous Kinky. As Julia, a vagabond Londoner traipsing around Marrakech, Winslet — in her first dramatic outing since Titanic — perfectly projects that naive self-centeredness with which a Woodstock generation of young wanderers, seeking spiritual revelation, made their way to cultures as exotic as their thumbs could carry them. Accompanying Julia are her daughters: Somber Bea (Bella Riza) longs for the security of school, while animated Lucy (Carrie Mullan) is up for any adventure so long as Mom is a constant. For a while, a Moroccan acrobat (Said Taghmaoui), with whom Julia has a sexy romance, is, the girls decide, a good candidate to replace the feckless English father who left them.

Gillies MacKinnon, working with a screenplay by his brother Billy, adapts Esther Freud’s 1992 novel with an emphasis on the sensual that allows little room for character development. Thus Hideous Kinky — the difficult title comes from a nonsense mantra the sisters repeat — is an opulent travelogue, a swirling montage of heightened moments, including magicians performing at a marketplace, a rich European entertaining in his mansion, and a sunburnt traveler hallucinating in the desert. As a result, we may not know what draws Julia to Sufism, but we do get to see a magisterial procession of Sufi mystics — and, of course, to hear Jefferson Airplane’s ”White Rabbit.” B

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