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The Five Senses


The Five Senses

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Directors who try to build a film or anthology around a vague concept ought to have something meaningful to say about it, as Krzysztof Kieslowski did with the themes of the French flag in Blue, White, and Red or The Ten Commandments in Decalogue. Otherwise, it's just a gimmick. Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa's The Five Senses is, as the title suggests, a quintet of interlocking storylines, each corresponding in some way to sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Everything wrong with Senses is tied to this pat, contrived, and precious scheme—which is a shame, since the rest of the film is often serenely elegant and exceptionally performed. Pitched in a cool, hypnotic tone that recalls a lot of Canadian cinema, owing a major debt in this case to Atom Egoyan, Senses sounds sillier in description than it actually is. The senses are divvied up as follows: A baker (Mary-Louise Parker) who designs elaborate but bland cakes falls for an Italian who's an excellent cook (taste); a massage therapist (Gabrielle Rose) with delicate hands (touch) feels responsible when her voyeuristic (sight) daughter (Nadia Litz) loses track of a client's daughter; a doctor (Philippe Volter) pens a list of sounds (hearing) he wants to experience before going deaf; and a gay housekeeper (Daniel MacIvor) becomes convinced that love is fragrant (smell). Each story's level of success is directly related to how much genuine emotion can be gleaned from its tidy conception, which means that the most affecting plotlines have little to do with their respective stimuli. The superbly dramatized missing-child story, for instance, touches on resonant themes of guilt, loss, and compassion that deserve a fuller treatment. But Podeswa, who attempted a similar stunt in 1994's Eclipse, is too married to his silly concept to provide one.