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Five Senses

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Five Senses

Starring: Mary-Louise Parker, Pascale Bussieres
Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: July 2000
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Richard Clarkin, Brendan Fletcher, Marco Leonardi, Nadia Litz, Daniel MacIvor, Molly Parker, Gabrielle Rose, Tara Rosling, Philippe Volter

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

One of the unfortunate contradictions of our species is that none of us likes to feel alone, and yet given our cynical age we often put roadblocks in the way of intimate relationships. This phenomenon can be milked for humorous effect as well as tragic, as Jeremy Podeswa does so well in his finely- crafted Canadian film "The Five Senses." Filmed in and about Toronto, this production has appropriately garnered awards and accolades at film festivals in Cannes and Toronto, and deals with the role of taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch in the lives of a group of characters whose narratives are skillfully interwoven. In some cases, people with a special acuity use their senses to establish intimate contact; in others, folks who are at a loss in particular perceptions learn to initiate a modicum of happiness. Employing the plaited narrative structure of Robert Altman and the texture of Atom Egoyan, Jeremy Podeswa has us leaving the theater with a smile as his characters make peace with what they have lost, in some instances actually profiting from their misfortunes.

Podeswa introduces his personalities one by one making clear to us what is at stake for each of them. Ruth (Gabrielle Rose) is a massage therapist not unlike Mitchell Stephens in Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter," having ironically lost her ability to touch her daughter emotionally. Robert (Daniel MacIvor) cleans houses professionally, has a superior sense of smell, and believes that by smelling the men and women with whom he associates romantically he can tell which one would be the ideal lover. Richard (Philippe Volter), a Belgian- born ophthalmologist living in Toronto, is slowly losing his hearing and seeks to make a mental archive of sounds before he goes completely deaf. The sixteen-year-old Rachel (Nadia Litz) has dropped out of high school because she could not fit in and is alienated from her mother, Ruth. She uses her sight to become a voyeur, to look upon her surroundings without getting involved. Rona (Mary-Louise Parker) bakes wonderful-looking cakes which taste utterly bland.

Podeswa milks the humor principally in his portrait of Rona, an adorable baker approaching middle age who has become involved with a chef, Roberto (Marco Leonardi) during a vacation in Italy. Though Roberto has given up his job and traveled to Toronto to re-unite with Rona, Rona is too cynical to believe the sincere and emotional Italian wants her for anything short of Canadian citizenship. At the same time, Rona continues to be friendly with a previous lover, the bisexual cleaner Robert--who may wonder why he and Rona ever broke up but knows from his prescient sense of smell that somehow a genuine love was missing.

What eventually brings these disparate persons together is the temporary disappearance of a child who is being watched by young Rachel but who vanishes during the moments that Rachel follows a young couple into a remote section of the park to observe their lovemaking. Unable to connect with her schoolmates, her mom, or anyone at all, she lives vicariously through her sight and will later grasp her true self through the patient and tender ministrations of a boy her own age.

"The Five Senses" was screened for critics in New York on the same evening as was "Mission to Mars." One cannot help observing that the two pictures are about as disparate from each other as movies can be. "Mission to Mars" deals with our fascination with outer space, with exploring the great beyond. "The Five Senses" turns inward, exploring Oscar Wilde's epigram, "Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul." While Podeswa is not as assured a director as his countryman, Atom Egoyan (he tends at times to dwell on particular scenes when a fast cut would have sharpened the tension), he helps prove that when it comes to making movies, the Canadians seem able to do no wrong. This is a film for those who realize that the most important unexplored territory lies not on the Red Planet but in a place even more intimate than our own backyards.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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