The Five Senses

The Five Senses (1999)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Mary-Louise Parker, Pascale Bussieres, Richard Clarkin
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Crew Bios

To understand exactly what writer/director Jeremy Podeswa tries to accomplish with ’The Five Senses, ’ it’s first necessary to know where the idea for this quirky little film originated. After reading Diane Ackerman’s remarkable book, ’A Natural History of the Senses, ’ Podeswa began to ponder ways in which he could translate to film her theme of how modern day life has overstimulated the five human senses to the point where we no longer remember how to appreciate sensation in its purest form — we’ve become detached from that which is truly worthwhile in life.

The resulting work embodies the five senses in five major characters who all live and work in the same apartment complex. Each has issues surrounding a particular sense — one has a hobbled sense of taste while another has a heightened sense of smell, for instance. Around this central theme revolve ancillary stories about a lost little girl and a teenage voyeur who meets his match in a rebellious girl. What these side stories serve to do is to force the main characters to look beyond their own preconceived notions and begin to consider what the world looks like when all five of the senses are fully engaged and appreciated.

If it sounds like a pretentious art-house flick, well, to a degree it is. The plot is there more to facilitate the main theme than to tell a cohesive narrative and everything from the cinematography to the music fairly screams "award winner" (the film was nominated for 9 Genie Awards and won for Best Director).
The whole concept of basing the premise of a movie on the five senses is fairly ambitious and I can’t really fault the director if the end result seems somewhat forced and contrived at times.

So then, how does it look? The transfer is offered in both full screen and <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> versions with the latter presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film takes place in environments ranging from dimly-lit rooms with stark shadows to gray, overcast skies — all of which are handled quite well. Colors are lush, where appropriate, and black levels are very solid allowing for fine shadow detail. It’s a DVD from New Line Home Video, so the fact that the picture is near perfect should come as no surprise.

The audio for ’The Five Senses’ is presented in English and French <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 mixes. Since the movie is mostly dialogue-driven, don’t expect much in the way of dynamic range from the soundtrack. The soundstage is firmly anchored front and center with only a few ambient effects and wisps of music floating to the surrounds. But, voices are always clear and even the faintest whisper in a lover’s ear remains audible.

Extras on the disc are limited to the theatrical trailer, a few cast and crew bios and filmographies, and a very sparse offering of DVD-ROM content.

I found ’The Five Senses’ to be an engaging film — but one that requires a fair amount of attention to detail. If I had not known going in what the basis for the movie was I would have been hopelessly lost. Performances are, for the most part, quite good and the cast is able to work within the constraints of their particular characters to tell the story. New Line’s DVD offers their usual stellar audio and video presentation and is without flaw — although a few extras would have been most appreciated.

Fans of modern Canadian cinema along the lines of Atom Egoyan’s ’The Sweet Hereafter’ or Don McKellar’s ’Last Night’ are sure to enjoy the dynamic character interactions and deft combination of drama, humor, and sexuality. If you’re a member of that rare breed then I can recommend ’The Five Senses’ without hesitation. For all others I would suggest a rental to be sure that this complicated, and slightly flawed, film is right for you.