"The Five Senses," Jeremy Podeswa's meditation on the power of touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing, is an excruciatingly beautiful exercise, with the emphasis on excruciating.
Exquisitely composed and art-directed to within an inch of its life, the film finally collapses from its own sense of importance, just like the beautiful but tasteless cakes that form one of its metaphorical centerpieces.
Mary-Louise Parker plays the young woman who bakes those cakes: She's a brittle, laconic artiste who creates gorgeous-looking confections that taste like dust. She's introduced to the power of the palate when her Italian lover (Marco Leonardi) comes to visit.
A few floors up, a massage therapist (Gabrielle Rose) applies the healing touch to her client (Molly Parker), but her inability to reach out to her daughter (Nadia Litz) results in disaster when the young girl - a budding voyeur - loses sight of the child she is watching.
Down the hall, an ophthalmologist(Philippe Volter) learns that he is going deaf and begins to assemble an aural library of things past. "Smell" is taken on by a compulsively neat house cleaner (Daniel MacIvor) who is convinced he can recognize ardor through odor.
Podeswa has taken a page from his fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan: "The Five Senses" is suffused with the same formal beauty and elegiac emotional tone.
The drama of the missing child, and how it ties together otherwise disparate characters, is also familiar.
But unlike Egoyan, whose films peel away into ever more fascinating layers, "The Five Senses" is all about surface. There's less here than meets the eye, not to mention the ear, nose, tongue and fingertip.
'The Five Senses'
Starring Molly Parker, Gabrielle Rose, Nadia Litz, Mary-Louise Parker, Daniel MacIvor, Philippe Volter
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Released by Fine Line Features
Running time 105 minutes
Rated R (sexuality and language)
Sun score: * 1/2