The Five Senses

Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Starring: Mary-Louise Parker and alphabetically: Pascale Bussières, Richard Clarkin, Brendan Fletcher, Marco Leonardi, Nadia Litz, Daniel MacIvor, Molly Parker, Gabrielle Rose, Tara Rosling, Philippe Volter.
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
July 30, 2000

Films with large ensemble casts are very hard to pull off, but they are very popular with directors like Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson. Generally, the characters have some sort of thematic connection, but The Five Senses, a new film from Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa, takes an entirely new approach. He focuses the film's characters and actions around different senses, and how they relate accordingly. In case you haven't figured it out by now, this isn't a prequel to The Sixth Sense.

Mary-Louise Parker is the star of the film, but only because she is the only actor who is remotely recognizable to general audiences. Her part of Rona, the pastry chef, is only marginally more important than the other characters. She lives in Toronto, but she met a man named Roberto (Marco Leonardi) while on vaction in Italy, and he is flying in (on a one-way ticket) to see her. Rona confides most deeply with her gay ex-boyfriend Robert (Daniel MacIvor), a house-cleaner with an acute sense of smell, who warns her that Roberto might be playing her for Canadian citizenship. He is also is sniffing around for love among his past lovers, both male and female. He knows what it smells like, but finding it proves difficult.

The most plotty part of the film concerns the daughter of Anna Miller (Molly Parker), who disappeared while under the incompetent supervision of Rachel (Nadia Litz), the teenage daughter of Anna's massage therapist, Ruth (Gabrielle Rose). Rachel left little Amy Lee Miller (Elise Francis Stolk) alone while she watched a young couple making out in the park. At the scene, she meets Rupert (Brendan Fletcher), a teenage boy who also likes to watch. Together, they explore their emerging sexual identities.

There's also the French optometrist (Philippe Volter), who is losing his hearing. He lives in the same office-apartment building as Ruth and Rona, adding a geographical connection to the characters.

As I said, however, the senses are the focus, and they are expressed quite well, considering Podeswa only had sight and sound to work with. His script also manages to bring forth drama and emotion, which is a good thing once the symbolism starts getting repetitive and obvious.

The characters come forth quite well, thanks to the talented international cast. Without them, the film would have a hard time holding together. Podeswa's style doesn't have Anderson's flair or Altman's power, but it does provide a believable structure for the film. He finds the right moments for humor and introspection, creating a positive viewing experience, if not a great work of art.

This is Podeswa's first film to get much attention stateside, not to mention a Genie (the Canadian equivalent of an Oscar) for direction and many other nominations. It should only be a matter time before he's making American films -- shot in Canada, of course (hardly anybody actually films in Hollywood anymore).

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Five Senses (1999)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan