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FIVE SENSES, THE(director/writer: Jeremy Podeswa; cinematographer: Gregory Middleton; editor: Wiebke Von Carolsfeld; cast: Molly Parker (Anna Miller), Daniel MacIvor (Robert, cleaning man), Gabrielle Rose (Ruth, masseuse), Philippe Volter (Richard Jacob, ophthalmologist), Marco Leonardi (Roberto), Pascale Bussieres (Gail), Nadia Litz (Rachel), Mary-Louise Parker (Rona, cake baker), Elise Francis Stolk (Amy Lee Miller), Brendan Fletcher (Rupert); Runtime: 105; Fine Line Features; 1999-Canada)
“This comedy/romance story is about communication and being in touch with yourself.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This comedy/romance story is about communication and being in touch with yourself. It is done in a delicately stylized form: mostly in dark, somber shades, as the story revolves around numerous characters in an office/residential building in Toronto. It involves the intertwining of these characters, each who has one of the five senses be an important part of their personality. The film moves along at a brisk pace, which kept me interested in their lives; but, what the story failed to do was tell me all it can about the characters. Nevertheless, the film touched a nerve in each one’s character and left me caring about them, despite thinking that maybe the characters were a bit shallow.

This engrossing film touches on the fears people have who are losing their senses and how they must rely on the sense that is their strongest to pull them through their difficulties. The main story involves the adorable three year old Amy Lee Miller (Stolk) disappearing in the park when she was supposed to be watched by an emotionally troubled 16-year-old Rachel (Litz), who has dropped out of school because she doesn’t fit in. Since Rachel is home with nothing to do, she is asked by her mother Ruth (Rose), a massage therapist, to watch her client’s daughter. In the park, Rachel gets distracted by a young couple going into the woods to make love and when she returns from watching them the little girl is missing. Rachel was also approached in the park by another voyeur, a teenager called Rupert (Fletcher), who gives her his phone number; they meet dressed in wigs and wearing makeup, desperately trying to get in touch with what is real about themselves. The sullen Rachel is fearful of what she sees about herself, as the sense she struggles to overcome is one of sight.

The recently widowed Ruth is deeply affected by the disappearance of Anna Miller’s (Molly Parker) child. Ruth uses this experience to search for the truth in her relationship with her daughter, realizing that she has the ability to work magic on her clients but can’t touch her own child. She fears that maybe she doesn’t have the complete sense of touch needed to be a healer. While facing this problem Anna Miller learns how to pray again, as the two women learn the true meaning of forgiveness by their actions under duress.

This missing girl story crisscrosses with the lives of a decorative cake baker whose cakes don’t taste as good as they look, Rona (Mary-Louise Parker). Rona invited an Italian chef she made love with while vacationing in Italy to come to live with her in Canada. Roberto (Leonardi) doesn’t speak English and she is just starting to learn Italian through the audio tapes, which makes verbal communication very difficult. Roberto is very cheerful and sensual, and their relationship is built on sex and his love of cooking. But, by trying too hard to please her, he has made her very wary of him. She has become suspicious of him upon his arrival, thinking he might try to scam her to stay in the country. This suspicion increases when she sees him at the airport with a beautiful Italian woman, who gave him her phone number. Rona struggles to understand herself through the sense of taste that is both her strong and weak point.

Robert (MacIvor)is a bisexual house cleaner, a former boyfriend of Rona’s, more interested in men than in women. Robertisnow close friends with her, sharing gossip and the intimate details of their love life. They are seen slyly talking to each other about what to avoid in a relationship, since they have both experienced many failed ones. He thinks he can smell what love is and since he is despondent that he hasn’t found love so far he makes a list of the men and women he has seen the last couple of years and we see him meet them again in an intimate cafe, where he smells them to see if love is in the offering. He wants to make sure he didn’t make a mistake and let a true lover slip by. When he fastidiously works at his cleaning job for a trendy couple who are living in a swank apartment, he thinks he has found in this couple the smell of love as he is presented with a new creation of perfume the woman designer has come out with. This comes after he shares a bed with the couple.

Dr. Richard Jacob (Philippe Volter) is a French optometrist. Richard learns that he is going deaf and makes a list of the sounds he wants to remember before he goes completely deaf, wishing to place them in his head as if he can build a library of sounds there. This is the only way he believes, that he can refer to them later on. In his loneliness and grief this divorced man with a child, whose family is in Europe, reaches out to a prostitute (Pascale Bussieres) who just happens to have a heart-of-gold and a deaf child of her own. She makes him hear his heart beat again for love. This sequence didn’t have the flow to it the others did and even though it was touching to see, it seemed too calculated to have much of an affect.

Jeremy Podeswa (Eclipse), the writer-director, has come up with a captivating film despite the shallowness of the characters and the story being a land mine of clichés. There are things shown in the relationships uncovered that bring out so many emotional qualities, as this independent film takes risks on a story line that borders on being perceived as too arty; but, somehow, it works because it has something to say about relationships that are so painful to bear. That I didn’t get to know as much about the characters as I would have liked, gets overridden by how well the story was presented. I don’t think the film would have worked if it weren’t for the nuanced characterizations. The point being made is that it is the little things one does to stimulate one’s senses that counts the most, whether it is when one reaches out for another or when just trying to understand someone else and giving them succor.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”