Jeremy Podeswa’s “The Five Senses,” which he wrote and directed, makes use of the gimmick implied by the title — how are each of the five important to us? — in a way that is subtle and non-gimmicky. It’s a wistful, honest film with characters who are connected primarily in a way they don’t realize: They are each failing at one or more of their five senses.
The central action is driven by the loss of a young girl who wanders off while being babysat in a park. Her guardian is Rachel (Nadia Litz), a dour teen who has to watch the child while her mother, Ruth (Gabrielle Rose), is given a therapeutic massage to the little girl’s mother, Anna (Molly Parker). Rachel is distracted from her duty when she sees an amorous couple go off into the woods to have sex. In the process, she not only loses the little girl, but also meets a boy her own age named Rupert (Brendan Fletcher) who’s as voyeuristic as she, sadly masking his own lack of real emotional contact.
Sharing an office building with Ruth is Richard (Philippe Volter), a doctor whose hearing is going fast. His poignant story, mostly separate from the others, is that he has compiled a list of sounds he wants to hear before it’s too late.
The lighter, though still heartfelt stories belong to Rona (Mary-Louise Parker) and her gay friend Robert (Daniel MacIvor). Rona makes beautiful cakes that taste lousy, which is secondary to her current dilemma of having begun a purely physical relationship with an Italian fellow she met while on vacation.
Robert’s trick, meanwhile, is a keen sense of smell. Becoming ever more desperate for love, he summons up a parade of former lovers to see if any of them still hold feelings for him; he says he can smell true love and will know it when he finds it.
Nearly everyone has an air of sadness about him or her, complemented by the film’s austere tone. Podeswa remains patient and calm as a director, nudging the action along gently without being flashy. He clearly has faith in his abilities as a storyteller and allows everything to speak for itself. This means things are, at times, rather slow. But I’d prefer to see things get a little bogged down than to be beaten in the head with unnecessary violence or sex.
The acting is as good as you’ll find, made more impressive by the sheer size of the ensemble and relative obscurity of the writer/director outside his native Canada. Mary-Louise Parker, who followed this role with a well-deserved Tony Award for her work in “Proof,” is marvelously full of personality and vim. Daniel MacIvor is nearly equally saucy as her friend Robert, and the rest of the cast fills out nicely — from Philippe Volter’s tragic doctor to Molly Parker’s slow disassembling at the loss of her young daughter to Gabrielle Rose’s masseuse who can feel emotion only through touch.
A- (; )