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Interconnected stories examine situations involving the five senses. Touch is represented by a massage therapist who is treating a woman, while her daughter accidentally loses the woman's pre-school daughter in the park. The older daughter meets a voyeur (vision), a professional house-cleaner has an acute sense of smell, a cake maker has lost her sense of taste, and an older man is losing his hearing. Written by
John Sacksteder <email@example.com>
The opening scene of "The Five senses" makes it clear that this is not a mainstream Hollywood shoot-them-up action flick. The beautiful subdued lighting and lovely slow music prepare you for a film closer in approach, sensibility and human interaction to European fare such as "Tous Les Matins du Monde". The cast is uniformly superb. The only moderately well-known cast member is Mary-Louise Parker who acquits herself splendidly as usual, though you get the feeling that the producers were anxious to have ONE name which was at least vaguely familiar to U.S. audiences.
The only weakness lies in the script. It does not unduly labor the "Five Senses" theme - five characters each have a flaw in one of their five senses. That would have made the film too much of an artificial academic exercise. Yet it slides into the opposite trap of not emphasising the importance of sense to two of the characters. The cakemaker apparently has no sense of taste, though that is barely apparent. Her lousy cakes might be the result of incompetence rather than handicap for all we are shown and her sensory deficiency is not an integral part of the story as it is for the opthalmologist who is going deaf. According to at least one review I read, the masseuse reportedly has a deficient sense of touch, which is not apparent at all. Indeed the scene where she massages the teacher, who is also the mother of the little girl who goes missing, is extraordinarily tender, gentle and sensuous.
The opthalmologist who is slowly losing his hearing provides some of the most poignant scenes. The writer is very aware of the saying that blindness cuts you off from things, deafness cuts you off from people. The character is obviously afraid of his growing disability enhancing his existing painful isolation. He is already separated from his wife and little girl and now faces losing his beloved music. He has to pay for sex. His prostitute takes pity on him, and after their intercourse she accompanies him to a glorious concert (paradoxically of religious music in a church!) and shows him sign language.
The other unforgettable scenes show the anguish of the mother of the missing little girl, and the remorse of the mother of the withdrawn teenager who lost her. It is a superlative performance by Molly Parker and contrasts favourable with the hystrionics shown by Michelle Pfeiffer in "The Deep End of the Ocean", where her character similarly loses her son. Curiously, Pfeiffer's character was portrayed as a practising Catholic, but was not shown as praying or arranging for any religious service to pray for the safe return of her child. Here, Molly Parker's character describes how she prayed for the first time in years. As Winston Churchill said, there are times when all pray, but here it is convincing and extraordinarily touching. Michael Medved in "Hollywood Versus America" notes how mainstream films hardly ever show their characters praying even in the direst circumstances. "The Five Senses" does not miss this obvious dramatic opportunity, nor does it unduly harp on it.
The predominant theme throughout the film is the difficulty of human communication and the essential loneliness of the individual. There is no intact normal family and you get the feeling that this is very much a "gay" perspective on the world and human relationships. This is not only because of the gay house cleaner and the brief male-male kissing scene, but the astonishing absence of any father - child relationship, which is a strong theme in much gay literature. The cakemaker is shown as anxious about her dying mother, but her father is not even mentioned. The missing little girl has a devoted mother, but again her father is not mentioned. The masseuse's husband is dead and she cannot communicate with her intelligent, but traumatised daughter.
To emphasise the loneliness refrain (another strong gay theme), the opthalmologist is separated from his wife and child. The housecleaner is apparently bisexual, but has no current male or female partner. The cakemaker has no current boyfriend, until the newly arrived Italian from her holiday romance appears - and even them his motivation is suspect, leading to a final complete misunderstanding on her part. The root causes behind the various characters' loneliness are never made not clear; this is a weakness in the writing and increases our difficulty in identifying with them, but it does not diminish our sympathy with at least some of their sorrows.
Overall, I give this unusual and beautifully crafted film 8 out of 10.
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