[Screen It]

"THE FIVE SENSES"
(2000) (Mary-Louise Parker, Philippe Volter) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: As authorities and concerned parents search for a missing child, various characters directly and indirectly involved with that incident try to sort out their connection to others via the various five bodily senses.
PLOT:
Ruth (GABRIELLE ROSE) is a widowed, Toronto-based massage therapist who may touch strangers all day, but can't manage to connect with her 16-year-old daughter, Rachel (NADIA LITZ). Their relationship becomes even further strained when Ruth asks Rachel to watch the toddler of one of her clients, Anna Miller (MOLLY PARKER). Distracted by watching others, Rachel loses track of the little girl, setting into motion a widespread police search and news coverage.

As this transpires, Rona (MARY-LOUISE PARKER), a professional cake decorator, is facing her own personal crisis. Beyond the fact that her cakes look wonderful but taste awful, Rona is concerned about the motivation behind the arrival of Roberto (MARCO LEONARDI), her recent Italian lover who speaks little English but is a wiz in the kitchen.

Rona's friend, Robert (DANIEL MACIVOR), a professional house cleaner, doesn't help in dispelling that fear, but he has his own agenda. Believing that he can smell true love, Robert has set out to reconnect with all of his former lovers - male and female - hoping to find the one who may have the right scent. Meanwhile, Ruth's eye doctor neighbor, Richard (PHILIPPE VOLTER), has his own quest connected to a particular sense. Realizing that he's losing his hearing, Richard has set out to build a library of sounds in his head. With the help of a hooker, Gail (PASCALE BUSSIERES), however, he soon learns that there are more than the obvious ways to "hear."

As Rachel continues her voyeuristic ways with the help of Rupert (BRENDAN FLETCHER), a boy she's just met, and the search for the missing child continues, the various people who are directly and indirectly involved in that incident try to find ways to connect with each other and the outside world.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
When considering one's trip to the local movie theater, it's easy to assume that only two of our five traditional senses - sight and hearing - are utilized during such a cinematic excursion. In reality, however, all of them get a workout. Notwithstanding "odorama" and/or the scratch and sniff cards that were briefly the rage, one's olfactory senses are hit by the smell of fresh and/or stale popcorn, not to mention the smell of the theater itself - particularly if it's one of those old, mildewing behemoths.

A trip to the concession stand obviously involves the taste buds being taxed, especially when one considers the salt and sugar overload traditionally accompanied by such goodies. Finally, from the ergonomics (or lack thereof) of the seating to the tactile feel of the floor (e.g. stickiness) and the latest addition of bass rumbling sound systems, one's sense of touch also gets a workout.

Although the two senses most directly associated with attending a screening obviously get used the most, the cumulative effect of all five of them obviously influences the overall moviegoing experience, much like everything else in life.

The sense one might get from watching writer/director Jeremy Podeswa's latest film, "The Five Senses," is a certain numbing in one's posterior and the increased urgency to shift around in one's seat. It's not that the film lacks an interesting story or solid performances (and despite what the title suggests, this isn't a prequel to "The Sixth Sense").

Instead, the film's major fault is its sloth-like pace that, when coupled with the fact that practically nothing of any great extent - save for the elements involved in a missing child subplot - ever transpires, makes for a slow one hundred or so minutes in a darkened theater. Much like some of the similarly paced and moody films of fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter"), Podeswa's effort is filled with well-developed characters and considerable amounts of related depth.

Yet, it's presented in such a similarly somber and slow-moving way that it's robbed of crucial and much-needed energy and momentum. Some of that pace impairment stems from the various subplots that don't always feel congruous with one another and the fact that none of them ever grabs the spotlight to dominate the proceedings. Without that congruity, the film's intentions and its filmmaking seams become a bit too apparent and obvious.

That's because what the film does have is an ample supply of loads of symbolism. With each distinct, but variously related story representing one or more of the five standard senses, the film certain isn't short on allegorical substance. While most of it's not of the "knock you over the head it's so blatant" variety, and such symbolism works on varying levels throughout the film (some obvious, and some rather subdued - such as the fact that, just as is the case with many of Disney's animated efforts, father figures are absent here), one can't help but be constantly reminded of the director and his film's collective goals.

Perhaps sensing that or simply being something that was overlooked or earlier jettisoned, writer/director Podeswa ("Eclipse") doesn't overload the viewer with the senses directly related to their individual scenes. For instance, in Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci's "Big Night," one can practically smell the wonderful aroma of the sumptuous meal being cooked in the film. While there are some related bits here - particularly related to various sounds heard by the eye doctor who's going deaf - they aren't as plentiful or successfully executed as one might expect.

By pointing out that omission and the often obvious symbolism, I'm not trying to indicate that either is a horrible problem, and some viewers might not mind or notice either of them. Had the individual stories meshed together a bit better, however, the intentions and seams probably wouldn't have stood out quite as much as they do.

The intriguing plots of Podeswa's separate stories certainly help mask some of that, as do the strong performances across the board from all of the cast members. Being the only relatively well-known name in the U.S., Mary-Louise Parker ("Goodbye Lover," "Fried Green Tomatoes") obviously gets the headliner treatment, and she delivers a fun take on her character who has trouble in both her cake making and romantic life.

Gabrielle Rose ("Double Jeopardy," "The Sweet Hereafter") delivers perhaps the strongest performance - despite us not getting the chance to really know much about her character - as the mother who feels guilty about her daughter, nicely played by Nadia Litz ("The Mighty," "Shift"), losing track of a toddler belonging to a mother, credibly played by Molly Parker ("Sunshine," "Waking the Dead").

Marco Leonardi ("Like Water For Chocolate," "Cinema Paradiso") and Daniel MacIvor ("House," "My Summer Vacation") appear as various and partial forms of comic relief, while Philippe Volter ("The Double Life of Veronique," Cyrano de Bergerac") delivers the film's most poignant performance regarding a man understandably concerned about losing his hearing and thus becoming dependent on others. Finally, and although his part is small, Brendan Fletcher (who's had other small parts in TV shows and various movies) makes quite an impression as a teenage voyeur. Don't be surprised to see him landing more substantial and prominent roles in the near future.

Overall, the film is decent and benefits from both those strong performances and a mostly intriguing collection of stories. Yet, each time an ensuing one of them steps up and takes center stage, it often steals the thunder, if you will, from those directly preceding them.

Thus, that prevents any of them from developing to the full extent that most viewers would probably like and never allows the film to gain its full stride, occasionally giving it something of a herky-jerky feel. That, and the fact that some viewers will sense and/or see Podeswa's filmmaking intentions of symbolizing the various senses through the characters and their stories, somewhat circumvents the film's efforts. While none of those objections are anywhere near being completely debilitating, they do prevent the film from being as good as it could have been. As such, "The Five Senses" rates as just a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed July 11, 2000 / Posted July 28, 2000


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