|Five Senses, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 23 January 2001|
"The Five Senses" is unusual. Most low-budget character studies tend to be narratively simple and/or so artful as to be inaccessible. "Senses," however, is warm and accessible, with plot threads that are meticulously interwoven yet easy to follow.
The film is set in contemporary Toronto, where all of the characters are dealing with some issue relating to one of the five physical senses. Eye doctor Richard (Philippe Volter), an opera fan who so loves sound that he plays tapes of the ocean – complete with gulls and buoys – in his office, dreads his impending loss of hearing. Masseuse Ruth (Gabrielle Rose) is a genius at literally handling her clients, but is out of touch with the needs and anxieties of her teenaged daughter Rachel (Nadia Litz), a budding voyeur. Rona (Mary-Louise Parker) is a cake decorator who creates pastries that are beautiful but tasteless, while her best friend Robert (Daniel MacIvor) believes that true love is something that can be smelled.
Writer/director Jeremy Podeswa consistently beguiles us with his affection for his characters and his surprising but plausible story twists. The people he presents to us are often unconventional but all ultimately have a measure of self-awareness. The filmmaker also avoids the common trap of using unreasonable tragedy as a means of getting a rise out of the audience; he earns his effects honestly.
Sound reproduction is lovely, although the soft-spoken characters’ voices sometimes tend to sink in the center channel. Ambient sound effects, however, are terrific. In Chapter 2, after a classical music piece spreads smoothly through the speaker field, we look up as a door opens in the left main. Chapter 3 does something interesting with an overseas phone call – the person talking onscreen is loud and clear on the center channel, while her unseen friend comes, crackling and faint, through the front and right mains. Sound effects like rain and traffic reside unobtrusively in the rears, creating environmental depth without drawing undue attention. In Chapter 5, the recording is so precise that we can actually hear the rustle of clothing as characters move through a room, and in Chapter 6, the buzzing of a fly is so authentic that viewers may initially think they’ve got a real-life bug problem.
Visually, "The Five Senses" tends to be dark. The transfer from film is very faithful – the big-screen version was full of points of light drawing focus in shadowy environments, and the digital edition preserves this. Podeswa and cinematographer Gregory Middleton have a fondness for dimly-lit, object-filled rooms, creating images that are like dreams and old photographs, At times, the film subtly appears to hint that we are recalling glimpses of our own memories. Podeswa invites us to imagine what’s beyond the range of the camera, suggesting tangible sensations waiting just out of sight. However, the various entwined plot strands are never sacrificed to ambience.
The idea of dramatizing the title elements of "The Five Senses" may sound like a conceit, but Podeswa makes it work in a film that fulfills the mandate of its premise in ways that are intelligent and touching.