I once knew someone who described himself, with transparent pride, as a ”sensualist.” The fact that he would use that word was a tip-off that his primary experience of life wasn’t through the senses at all but through his pesky, overanalytical brain. I got the same feeling from Jeremy Podeswa’s The Five Senses, an intriguing yet overly patterned ensemble drama.
Set in Toronto, the film keeps pausing to insist that its characters, beneath their urban-sophisto veneer, are irrational animals driven by mysterious, highly ”sensual” urges. One is a self-effacing, bisexual house cleaner (Daniel MacIvor) who judges everyone by aroma; he’s searching, he says, for the smell of love. Another is a forlorn optometrist (Pascale Bussieres) who happens to be going deaf (how’s that for sensual-thematic overload?).
Podeswa has an undeniable talent for structure and mood. His characters are saddened romantics in search of that missing, inchoate… something, and for a while his discursive empathy is appealing — he’s a filmmaker wandering after wanderers. But ”The Five Senses” grows precious and a bit tedious, perhaps because the characters are allowed to feel every hidden emotion but anger. Even a vaguely demonic teenager (Nadia Litz), whose passive-aggressive negligence results in a missing child, is sanctified by her broken heart. Our senses may be the stuff of drama, but not when they’re treated as nice and neat as this.