Five Senses [1999]

Though set in Toronto and directed by Canadian Jeremy Podeswa, The Five Senses evokes the emotional geography of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs trilogy. Mightn't the senses do as well as colors to signal a chance-driven world where urban isolates miss and make connections in gloomy corridors and apartments, overcast parks, rainy streets, half-finished constructions? But Podeswa's almost aimless cutting among a clutch of apartment dwellers (each identified with smell, sight, taste, hearing, or touch) is more like a warm bath in easy solutions (or sad songs) than a bracing glimpse into the human condition. A masseuse named Seraph (Gabrielle Rose, The Sweet Hereafter's bus driver) ministers to a weeping boy unable to recall when he was last touched, but she can't reach out to her own daughter (Nadia Litz), a self-loathing teen with a taste for voyeurism. Down the hall, a music-loving ophthalmologist (Philippe Volter) sinks deeper into loneliness as he begins to go deaf. Upstairs, Rona (Mary-Louise Parker), who designs gorgeous but inedible cakes, is unable to quite trust the joyously sensual appetite of her Italian-chef boyfriend. Searching for true love by smell, Rona's bisexual friend Robert (Daniel MacIvor) discovers passing pleasure in a designer perfume with the power to conjure an unexpected liaison. If this were The Sweet Hereafter, the fate of the little girl who goes missing at the start of Podeswa's film might shadow these "sensualists" into radical transformation, perhaps even parole them from the prison of self. But The Five Senses never gets that far under the skin. Still, there is something pleasantly hypnotic, even liberating, about the way Podeswa drifts lightly over surfaces, never getting caught in the net of narrative. --Kathleen Murphy

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