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'Senses' and Sensibility

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2000


    'Loser' Mary-Louise Parker gets a taste of Daniel Maclvor's obsession in "The Five Senses." (Fine Line)
The big stars in Jeremy Podeswa's "The Five Senses" are (roll the drums, please) touch, taste, vision, hearing and smell.

In Podeswa's narratively club-footed but directorially assured movie, the characters (all residents or workers in the same apartment building in Toronto) are having some kind of sensual issue.

  • Richard (Philippe Volter) is an eye doctor who deals with people's vision difficulties all day. But of all ironies, this sight expert is losing his hearing. He's dreading the thought that he cannot hear opera, his daughter's voice and the other beautiful sounds in his life.

  • Ruth (Gabrielle Rose) is a widowed massage therapist who's out of touch – literally and figuratively – with her morose teenage daughter, Rachel (Nadia Litz).

  • Rona (Mary-Louise Parker) makes cakes for birthdays and weddings that are murder on the taste buds.

  • Robert (Daniel MacIvor), a house cleaner and Rona's confidante, is so attuned to his sense of smell, he uses his nose to judge almost everything.

    Things in Sensually Deprived Towers take a turn for the dramatic when Rachel (the masseuse's sullen daughter) takes the child of her mother's client out for a walk in the park. Distracted by a couple that has slipped into the woods to have sex, she loses track of the little girl, who wanders off.

    Suddenly, there's a big hue and cry, as Toronto police and news crews draw public attention to the missing girl, and residents in the building react to the tragedy.

    The search becomes a unifying link for the various subplots at play. While news of the missing girl fills the airwaves, the characters come to grips with their, you know, sense issues.

    Ruth the masseuse, feeling guilty about the lost child, tries to connect with the mother of the missing girl. She also tries to understand her daughter's apparently blase reaction to the tragedy. Richard the eye doctor tries to create a mental library of the sounds he'll be missing as his hearing fades. His hired escort (Pascale Bussieres) begins to provide emotional support for him; and a sexual relationship grows into something better.

    Rona the bad cake-maker gets a visit from Roberto (Marco Leonardi), an Italian fling who suddenly jets in determined to start a life as a chef. She thinks he might be a con artist, using her to gain entry to the country. He thinks she needs to retrain her palate.

    And in the most interesting character-driven section of the movie, Robert the house cleaner (Rona's best friend) decides to take stock of his former lovers (male and female) and reassess them – in case there was a great love he didn't appreciate at the time. After all, he believes he can smell the true aroma of love.

    Clearly, Podeswa is a better director than writer. The story, which he wrote, is diagrammatic and simple; it lays out its design too obviously. But Podeswa, an artistic kissing-cousin of Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (who made "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Felicia's Journey"), has a gift for evoking subtle sensuality.

    He also coaxes good performances from Parker and MacIvor. Parker, an underrated actor, is tender and occasionally funny as the worried Rona, wondering if this Italian lover is too good to be true. And MacIvor has an incredibly simpatico appeal. In a non-intrusive way, he seems to be speaking – or benevolently reacting – on Podeswa's behalf. This movie isn't going to stand up and shake you by the lapels. Patient viewers – who can deal with Canadian movie rhythms – are going to have to enjoy the passing moments with this movie's characters to appreciate the film's smaller virtues.

    THE FIVE SENSES (R, 105 minutes) – Contains nudity, sexual situations and emotionally distressing material.


    © Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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