The Five Senses (1999)

The Five Senses (1999)

Taglines: Nothing can cure the soul but the senses. – Oscar Wilde.

The Five Senses is about interconnected stories linked by a building which examine situations involving the five senses. Touch is represented by Ruth Seraph, a massage therapist who is treating Anna Miller. Ruth’s daughter Rachel accidentally loses Anna’s pre-school daughter, Amy Lee, in the park, when Rachel is distracted by the sight of a couple making love in the woods. Rachel meets a voyeur named Rupert (vision), and they become friends as fellow outsiders while he teaches her the pleasure of observing others. They eventually go to one of Rachel’s hiding places, where she has him dress like a woman.

Meanwhile, Ruth tries to help Anna cope with the disappearance of Amy Lee and stays the night at her home. Robert, a professional housecleaner, has an acute sense of smell, and seeks out the people he used to see to absorb their scents and see if he can smell any feeling for him or why they stopped caring for him. His professional clients include his friends Raymond and Rebecca, who makes perfume.

The Five Senses is a 1999 Canadian drama film directed, written and produced by Jeremy Podeswa. Starring are Molly Parker, Mary-Louise Parker, Pascale Bussières, Richard Clarkin, Brendan Fletcher, Marco Leonardi, Nadia Litz, Daniel MacIvor, Gabrielle Rose, Tara Rosling and Philippe Volter.

The Five Senses (1999)

Film Review for THe Five Senses

“You can smell love,” says Robert. “If anyone I used to be in love with still loves me, I can tell.” He makes dates with former lovers to sniff them across a cafe table, while meanwhile Richard, an eye doctor who is going deaf, hires a hooker to listen to music with him. Ruth the massage therapist still has her touch with her clients, but is out of touch with her daughter Rachel. Rachel allows a little girl to wander out of her sight and get lost. Rona is great at decorating cakes, but they don’t taste good.

“The Five Senses” tells interlocking stories about people who are losing their senses, and fear they are losing themselves in the process. But to state the film’s subject that directly is to miss the way the writer-director, Jeremy Podeswa, intercuts the stories. He doesn’t insist on the senses and the danger of their loss, but allows the fears of his characters to emerge in stories that have weight of their own. Like “Magnolia” and “Short Cuts,” the real subject of the movie is loneliness.

The lost child provides the central story. While Ruth (Gabriella Rose) massages Anna (Molly Parker), Ruth’s teenage daughter Rachel (Nadia Litz) is assigned to take Anna’s young daughter to the park. There Rachel meets Rupert (Brendan Fletcher), a boy about her age, who invites her to follow a couple into the woods. Fascinated by indistinct views of the couple making love, Rachel forgets the little girl, who wanders away and is lost.

The Five Senses (1999) - Molly Parker

The search for the girl occupies much of the film, although Podeswa gives the audience a cue that the girl may be safe. In its labyrinthine way, the story curls back to Rachel and Rupert, who play a game with makeup and wigs that may, ironically, help them get better in touch with themselves (“It’s like looking at you inside out,” Rachel tells him).

There is bittersweet humor in some of the other stories. The bad cake baker Rona (Mary-Louise Parker) has fallen in love with a chef during a trip to Italy. Roberto (Marco Leonardi) follows her back to Toronto, moves in, cooks delicious dishes, makes love, is happy. But Rona cannot believe her good luck and fears Roberto is simply after money or a passport. Against this lighter comedy stands the sadness of Richard (Philippe Volter), the eye doctor, who is consciously collecting a library of remembered sounds against the day when he goes deaf.

Love has its way of finding paths around problems, and that is the discovery of Robert (Daniel MacIvor), a bisexual house cleaner who works for a couple whose house he cannot quite figure out. She is a perfume designer, and one day when she lets him sniff a new perfume, everything suddenly becomes clear.

The Five Senses (1999)

A story like “Five Senses” sounds like a gimmick, but Podeswa has a light touch when dealing with the senses and a sure one when telling his stories. The evolution of Rachel, the angry girl, is especially touching; as we find out more about her problems, and the reasons she can’t communicate with her mother, we begin to care. She’s a lot more than just the girl who lost the child in the park. And the missing child’s mother, Anna, is more than simply a cliche of a grief-stricken parent. She deals with the loss with her mind as well as her feelings, does not necessarily blame Ruth’s daughter, finds herself depending on Ruth and prays in a way that is particularly touching.

Interwoven stories like this can have a particular effect on me. Most movies tell linear plots in which the hero moves from A to B, accompanied by human plot devices. They can be very involving, but I also like the messiness of movies that cut from one story to another, showing how lives can intersect and separate.

Some people find these kinds of movies contrived. I think it is just the opposite. A to B stories are obviously plots. Stories like this one show that life goes on all around, and over and beneath, and inside, the artifice of plot.

The Five Senses Movie Poster (1999)

The Five Senses (1999)

Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Starring: Molly Parker, Mary-Louise Parker, Pascale Bussières, Richard Clarkin, Brendan Fletcher, Marco Leonardi, Nadia Litz, Daniel MacIvor, Gabrielle Rose, Tara Rosling, Philippe Volter
Screenplay by: Jeremy Podeswa
Production Design by: Taavo Soodor
Cinematography by: Gregory Middleton
Film Editing by: Wiebke Von Carolsfeld
Costume Design by: Gersha Phillips
Set Decoration by: Darryl Dennis Deegan, Erica Milo
Art Direction by: James Phillips
Music by: Alexina Louie, Alex Pauk
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and language.
Distributed by: Fine Line Features
Release Date: September 10, 1999