Analysis: Podeswa’s “The Five Senses”

Having heard a rumor that this film was somehow comparable to Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy, I had to watch it. An in-depth analysis was, unfortunately, impossible because the film was no deeper than the average narcissist. Where Three Colors deserves a ten-out-of-ten rating, Five Senses is a solid six, and then only because Mary-Louise Parker is such an excellent actor. I would not be surprised to learn that she personally enhanced the script with some “Method” ad-libbing because the best of her dialogue seems genuinely inspired by her quirky character Rona’s perky-in-spite-of-all spirit. 

The plot-lining reminded me more of a television soap opera or mini-series, a Big Love but emphasizing free-love and (everything) other-than-hetero preferences instead of Big Love’s bigamy-with-missionary-begotten-progeny. In any case, too much focus on too many cast members too rapidly and too sexually gave almost all of the characters a glossed-cardboard quality compared to Kieślowski’s totally real people. I wondered at first whether the movie is just too short but finally concluded that making this Five Senses in a Blender thing longer would not have improved it enough to justify the time. 

Splashing too-professionally-decorated staged interiors with red, white, and blue, adding a big dose of chamber music and some operatic solo singing, while folding sexy European accents and dialogue into the mix does not make it comparable to Kieślowski’s masterpieces; it seems more like strained homage to Kieślowski. The production, overall, has the feel of a pilot for a TV series that never happened. At least that is my sense of it. 

The main theme was a concentration on—I wish I could say exploration of—individuals dealing with some sort of loss or distress with respect to a particular human sense, a focus that took form as something more formulaic than artful, more comedic than touching. That may sound harsh, but the dialogue was so predictable and trite at times that I could hear in my mind an entire next line before the character opened his mouth to utter it. 

The story is said to center on tenants of one building and the intersecting of their lives with regard to the five bodily senses in search of intimacy, but we do not see any deep meaning—let alone profundity—regarding that aspect except that it supplies convenient action, most of which is pedestrian, probably necessitated by a low budget. Not that I think anyone should have thrown more money at it. Sniffing people (as “Robert” does) in an effort to detect the special scent of love was, for me, just creepy. Moreover, the writer’s sensorial oversight that Rona suffered from a flawed “sixth sense,” more so than from defective taste-buds, is tragic—the movie should have been titled The Six Senses

Again, for me, Mary-Louise Parker made viewing the film worthwhile. She makes frequent use of certain postures and facial expressions, like the one I call “the-kidnapped-bank-teller-with-pot-in-her-purse” look, uncertain whether she wants to be rescued by the cops or run away with the robber, although her characters are never tiresome—to the contrary. Parker is amazing in every way, but we liked her even better in Fried Green Tomatoes, Goodbye Lover (where she was “extra crispy”), Naked in New York, and Bullets Over Broadway. She is an Oscar winner waiting to happen; she just needs the right script. I can smell it.

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4 Responses to “Analysis: Podeswa’s “The Five Senses””

  1. Stark Raven Says:

    As you may recall, I’m a psychotherapist. I read your review and watched the movie last night. The story is said to be about a group of “troubled and triumphant” people seeking to make sense of their lives. There’s a lot of gimmicky, I thought, play on the word “sense” but the whole thing left me with a sense of there being little hope for happy traditional (husband, wife, child) relationships in this age, although I know better. There was lots of trouble but not so much triumph, in my opinion, and the ending seemed tragic, at least with respect to Parker’s character Rona. Do you think that is the real message or moral of this story? That it’s hopeless for heterosexual people and traditional coupling? My advice to the Ronas of the world is to get professional help.

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    As a heterosexual, I am inclined to agree with you about Rona and, considering that she is the lead character, I cannot see the story as anything other than a tragedy—worse than “Romeo and Juliet” because they got to die. Yet there are other perspectives on this story or it would not have won the film festival awards.

    The DVD insert says: “…until, one by one …each is drawn out …into a world that promises to re-ignite the passion…” which does not seem accurate, especially with regard to Rona and her Italian lover whose relationship is hopelessly undermined by Rona’s paranoia which has been stoked by her gay friend Robert’s put-downs and misguided advice about dating and partner selection. Rona’s mother appears to have been the first contributor to Rona’s unwarranted low self-esteem and unattached status.

    As I stated in the post, I think the movie should have been called “The Six Senses” so that the overlooked insight could be underscored: that Rona suffers from an impaired sixth sense about the man who is truly in love with her. Rona has her male friend, Robert, but she cannot accept that a man can have a female friend he does not sleep with. Instead, she assumes the worst, which just stinks. Moral: Dare to trust.

  3. Sara B. Says:

    Bullets Over Broadway was an excellent movie but Parker’s part was so much smaller. It doesn’t seem to compare.

  4. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Yes, the writer-director (Woody Allen) obviously had to make a huge effort to hide her light to keep it in sync with the size of the role. Yet how small can a part be that plays next to John Cusack?

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