In writer/director Jeremy Podeswa's mesmerizing THE FIVE SENSES, Rona
(Mary-Louise Parker from GRAND CANYON) has a small problem -- an
impaired sense of taste. A baker who creates marvelous-looking but
incredibly-bland cakes, Rona hasn't a clue as to how to create flavor.
Her taste in boyfriends is also questionable. While on vacation she met
an Italian hunk, Roberto (Marco Leonardi), and invited him home. This
non-English speaker has ensconced himself in her apartment, and she
worries that she'll never get him out. Still, the sex is good, and,
being a great cook, he feeds her well so she is perplexed about what to
This is one of many overlapping stories in THE FIVE SENSES. Each of
them involves one of the five human senses in some way. Using this plot
gimmick, Podeswa, an extremely gifted writer and director, never lets
the limitations of the setup confine the bounds of his storytelling.
The beauty of the story is that no matter how much we learn about each
character, we are compelled to discover even more. Most writers
introduce a dozen main characters only to the detriment of narrative
clarity, but Podeswa manages to create complex characterization within
the bounds of minimal screen time. His movie calls to mind Lawrence
Kasdan's GRAND CANYON in the depth of its characterization.
THE FIVE SENSES in tone most reminds one of another Canadian film, THE
SWEET HEREAFTER, but THE FIVE SENSES mixes comedy and romance with its
tragedies. The deliberate and successful slow pacing works in both
pictures, whereas slowness is usually cinematic death for a film.
The story that glues the others together concerns the disappearance of a
4-year-old girl, Amy Lee. One day at the massage therapist, Ruth
(Gabrielle Rose), Anna (Molly Parker from KISSED) finds that Amy Lee is
bored. Ruth asks her very reluctant teenage daughter, Rachel (Nadia
Litz), to take Amy Lee to the park across the street to play.
Rachel is a sullen, unhappy kid with a lot of repressed anger. A
16-year-old high school dropout, she looks like a character straight
from THE ICE STORM. She voyeurs life like a stranger from her nerdy
glasses. While in charge of Amy Lee, Rachel wanders off to observe
lovers in the park, and when she returns, her little charge is gone.
Rachel feels terrible about it but stuffs her feelings as deep as she
can. Only another outsider about her age, Rupert (Brendan Fletcher),
can understand something of her angst, causing them to develop a strange
In the same building as Ruth is an eye-doctor, Richard (Philippe
Volter), who is going deaf. He becomes an audio voyeur and begins
making a list of those sounds that he wants to listen to before his
hearing goes. His character is reminiscent of the one from LAST NIGHT
who had a long list of activities that he wanted to engage in before the
world ended. Gail (Pascale Bussieres), a paid "escort" and sympathetic
person, helps him in his quest.
The most interesting and unusual character is that of Robert (Daniel
MacIvor), Rona's bisexual house cleaner, who has a remarkable gift of
smell. Robert is on a quest to smell all of his previous lovers to see
if any of them still love him. He explains that he can smell love and
that he actually would not call his acquaintances "lovers" since he
doesn't think any of them really loved him. Robert and Rona, one of his
ex-flings, mentor each other in the ways of love. He is especially full
of advice for her, most of which she agrees with but ignores anyway.
Robert is a funny, friendly guy, who is light-years away from the
clichés we are normally presented with as gay people. His search has
the same bittersweet tone as the rest of the movie, but his character
works so hard to be happy that we could vote him "Most Wanting to
Succeed." We root for him all the way even when it seems that no one
appreciates him as they should. (He's also one of the best and happiest
house cleaners you've ever met.)
The hauntingly beautiful music by composers Alexina Louie and Alex Pauk
perfectly captures and enhances the mood of the film. Full of strings,
wind instruments and dreamy voices, the score is striking in its
emotional impact on the film and lovely on its own.
Eventually, the stories wrap up quite satisfactorily but without any
unnatural convergences or actions. Like GRAND CANYON, you are left
wanting to know more about what happens to your newly-made friends after
the three days covered in the narrative. Podeswa doesn't insult your
intelligence by providing some cheap epilogue. He leaves you free to
use your imagination to decide how the rest of their lives turn out.
THE FIVE SENSES runs 1:44. It is rated R for sexuality and language and
would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 1999 Steve Rhodes