2 min

The smell of love

Robert, a character in The Five Senses, has a sense of smell so acute he can tell you the country of manufacture of the car you drove to meet him.

And if someone loves you, he says, you can smell it. “The nose knows,” he insists, and he spends his time surreptitiously – or not – taking a whiff of his ex-partners, one by one, in a search for someone who loves him.

As it turns out, Robert is looking for love in all the proverbial wrong places. And when he finds it, turns out that it was right under his nose all along.

Described in such a linear fashion, this particular storyline – one of five in Jeremy Podeswa’s latest film – may seem rather whimsical, but not particularly weighty. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Beautifully written and directed and brilliantly performed, The Five Senses comprises a group of vibrant, engaging character studies, each one an in-depth exploration of the complexities of human nature, human relations, and human foibles.

Five central characters are linked, to varying degrees and for varied reasons, to a single, anchor event: the disappearance of Amy Lee, a little girl. Each is also associated with one of the five senses. The characters thus form a sort of nebula, a constellation which gradually takes shape as we come to see each point in greater detail.

The film depicts the characters’ lives over a few days, via a series of carefully composed situations. Through these, we gain an intimate understanding of each character: why they behave as they do, what kind of emotional landscape they inhabit, how they relate to the world around them.

Rachel, for example, is an awkward, moody teenager. She and Ruth, her mother, are locked in what appears at first glance to be that typical, age-old parent/teenager communication conflict.

Rachel is associated with sight, she likes to watch. In an ironic turn, she is responsible for Amy Lee’s disappearance. She is so busy watching a couple of teenagers making out in the bushes in a local park that she forgets to watch the little girl, whom she was minding.

She meets Rupert, who likes to watch too. Next evening, he shows Rachel some other sexual shenanigans going on in the park. In part, it is Rachel’s communion with Rupert that provides us with a better understanding of the dynamic between her and Ruth. What had appeared to be a typical mother/daughter relationship thus becomes exquisitely nuanced.

And this is the case across the board. The Five Senses is a difficult film to encapsulate. Its pleasures come from its richness of character and the depth of its relationships. By the final fade-out, each character is complete and we are content to allow the film its resolution.