An allegorical pic with characters standing in for the different senses could easily become pretentious, but Canuck writer-director Jeremy Podeswa takes the schematic concept and turns it into a surprisingly warm, perceptive, funny and cleverly structured film. There's a witty charm to much of the writing that brings light to what might have been merely a dark examination of people's inability to connect emotionally. All the main thesps in the ensemble cast do a first-rate job of infusing these neurotic folks with rich, nuanced personalities. This is a much more fully realized --- and more upbeat --- pic than the Toronto helmer's first outing, "Eclipse," and, with some critical support, could prove pleasing to the tastebuds of upscale auds in North America and internationally.

An allegorical pic with characters standing in for the different senses could easily become pretentious, but Canuck writer-director Jeremy Podeswa takes the schematic concept and turns it into a surprisingly warm, perceptive, funny and cleverly structured film. There’s a witty charm to much of the writing that brings light to what might have been merely a dark examination of people’s inability to connect emotionally. All the main thesps in the ensemble cast do a first-rate job of infusing these neurotic folks with rich, nuanced personalities. This is a much more fully realized — and more upbeat — pic than the Toronto helmer’s first outing, “Eclipse,” and, with some critical support, could prove pleasing to the tastebuds of upscale auds in North America and internationally.

Massage therapist Ruth (Gabrielle Rose), who reps the touchy-feely side of the senses spectrum, is giving Anna Miller (Molly Parker) a rubdown in the first scene. Ruth’s daughter, Rachel (Nadia Litz), takes Anna’s pre-school daughter to the park, and, mainly because she’s in the midst of an adolescent crisis, Rachel loses the kid. The search for the missing girl forms a backdrop to the pic’s other events.

The distraught Rachel meets a voyeur, Rupert (Brendan Fletcher), and together they explore the thrills of spying on illicit activities, this strand repping the sense of sight.

Robert (Daniel MacIvor), first seen cleaning a house in time to some cheesy Latin dance music, is meeting with all his former lovers, male and female, in a desperate attempt to figure out why his love life is such an utter disaster.

This professional house-cleaner has an exceptionally well-developed sense of smell, and he believes you can smell love. So he wants to smell all his former boyfriends and girlfriends to see if anyone is still in love with him. Robert’s scenes provide many of pic’s most memorable comic moments.

His best friend, Rona (Mary-Louise Parker), has a problem with the sense of taste, in that she doesn’t have one. This is a problem because she’s a cake maker. Her immediate dilemma, however, is the arrival of Roberto (Marco Leonardi), a lover she met on a recent Italian vacation. The auditory end of the equation is exemplified by French eye specialist Richard (Philippe Volter), who is in the process of losing his hearing. This story is the least successful of the five, with a too-sappy vignette about a woman (Pascale Bussieres) who helps him deal with his depression.

Podeswa handles the intersecting stories with a sure hand, juggling the different tales without making the pic seem cluttered or self-consciously clever. The layered yarn touches on the seeming impossibility for most people of forging real emotional bonds.

Much of pic’s strength lies in the perfs by the uniformly strong cast. MacIvor has real comic style as the house-cleaner with a nose for love, Parker is wonderfully high-strung as the tasteless chef, Leonardi is suitably sexy and goofy as her unilingual Italian pal, and Parker registers a nicely nuanced performance.

The frosty relations between Ruth and her daughter are captured with icy style by Rose and Litz. Bussieres is, as always, a strikingly ethereal presence, while only Volter errs on the side of pretentiousness.

Alex Pauk and Alexina Louie’s score hits just the right understated, atmospheric notes, and lensing is heavy on carefully constructed shots that are often quite beautiful.

The Five Senses - 'Five' Exudes Sense of Humor, Warmth

(DRAMA -- CANADIAN)

Production

An Alliance Atlantis presentation of a Five Senses production in association with Alliance Atlantis Pictures, with the participation of Telefilm Canada, the Canadian Television Fund, the Harold Greenberg Fund, TMN--The Movie Network, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the Canadian Tax Credit program. (International sales: Alliance Atlantis Pictures Intl., L.A.) Produced by Camelia Frieberg, Jeremy Podeswa. Executive producers, Charlotte Mickie, Ted East, David R. Ginsburg. Directed, written by Jeremy Podeswa.

Crew

Camera (color), Gregory Middleton; editor, Wiebke Von Carolsfeld; music, Alex Pauk, Alexina Louie; production designer, Taavo Soodor; costume designer, Gersha Phillips; sound, Philip Stall; associate producer, Shimmy Brandes. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 18, 1999. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Rona ..... Mary-Louise Parker Richard ..... Philippe Volter Ruth ..... Gabrielle Rose Robert ..... Daniel MacIvor Rachel ..... Nadia Litz Anna Miller ..... Molly Parker Gail ..... Pascale Bussieres Roberto ..... Marco Leonardi Rupert ..... Brendan Fletcher
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