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'Five Senses, The'

'Senses' working overtime: Canadian director does wonders with his very human theme

Friday, September 22, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

People coming to their senses -- literally -- is both the subject and object of the extraordinarily original film at hand: There are five stories to match "The Five Senses" of Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa.

'The Five Senses'

Rating: R for sexual themes

Players: Nadia Litz, Mary-Louise Parker, Daniel MacIvor, Gabrielle Rose, Philippe Volter

Director: Jeremy Podeswa

Web site: www.fivesenses

Critic's call: 3 1/2 stars


Chief among them is that of Rachel (Nadia Litz), a sullen young baby sitter, who is so caught up in her voyeurism that she manages to lose her 3-year-old charge in the park one day. The disappearance of the little girl is a serious crisis that infuses the film with a sense -- or potential sense -- of sinister tragedy.

Other than the missing child's mother, Rachel's mother Ruth (Gabrielle Rose of "The Sweet Hereafter") is the most distraught about it. Ruth is a massage therapist who makes her living by touching and soothing strangers, but can't touch her own daughter in any significant way.

Meanwhile, an inner tragedy is afflicting Richard (Philippe Volter), a soulful doctor who is going slowly and agonizingly deaf. The haunting sound of a countertenor's Gregorian chant mesmerizes him as he attempts to build up "a library of sounds" before the final silence.

Sexy Rona (Mary-Louise Parker), on the other hand, has never really acquired the primary sense of her trade: She's a cake-baker who makes lousy cakes -- and lacks a very good sense of taste in men, as well. Parker's own take on her character is perfect: "She never goes past a certain level -- the frosting level -- with her cakes or her relationships."

That leaves the last sense -- the one we humans have largely lost to the animals -- to Robert (Daniel MacIvor), a gay house cleaner. Robert's futile search for love begins and ends with the question, "How does he smell?" He can make no rational (or any other) decision without knowing that, tracking down his former lovers just to get a current whiff of them and to gauge their current affection for him thereby.

MacIvor provides the film with a charming element of subtle comedy that leavens the otherwise highly serious nature of its sensual themes.

Sensual ... so many words and concepts and realities in our lives stem from the Big Five. We speak of "sensing" something. We describe random crimes as "senseless" and politicians' stupid pronouncements as "nonsense."

Director-writer Podeswa makes superb use of music and photography to paint and punctuate the multiple tale. His script is quite brilliant, if sometimes confusing -- the different stories not necessarily interconnecting well (or at all). It is not the people but the senses that unify it. But it's a uniformly excellent set of performances that bring it to life.

Everyone is so sensually acute and deprived at the same time, in such different ways. That, in the end, is the thing that makes this elliptically beautiful film make such good sense.

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