Sundance 2011: PERFECT SENSE Review
The apocalypse has been envisioned in all kinds of cinematic forms over the years. From robotic uprisings to giant tidal waves, the end of the world has always been a popular backdrop for stories of human drama. Perfect Sense approaches the subject from a perspective explored briefly in other films, but never with the angle and attention that director David Mackenzie pays it here. Mackenzie's commitment to a very bold concept coupled with strong performances by the film's stars make Perfect Sense one of the sleeper hits of the Sundance Film Festival.
At its heart, Perfect Sense is a love story between playboy chef Michael (Ewan McGregor) and guarded epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green). The two are drawn together just as peculiar events sweep the globe. Within days, everyone on the planet has a tremendous bout of grief followed by a complete loss of smell. Officials tell everyone not to worry and that their sense of smell will return, but soon after it happens again. This time it is an overwhelming terror and then ravaging hunger that forces the person affected to eat anything in sight, be it sticks of lipstick or gallons of olive oil. Upon recovery, the victims realize their sense of taste has disappeared as well. People go on with their lives, adapting to a world with fewer senses - learning to enjoy the things like the textures of foods. Still, people live in fear of what it all means - and what will happen next. For Michael and Susan, it is this uncertainty that propels their burgeoning relationship. With no guarantee of a future, they must try to enjoy every moment together to its fullest, even if it runs counter to their solitary nature.
From a technical perspective, Perfect Sense hits all the right notes. Giles Nuttgens's cinematography is crisp and gorgeous and Jake Roberts as editor makes many good decisions. While the plot is mainly contained in its Glasgow setting, the choice to intercut scenes from around the world (many being stock videography) helps to dispel any sense of claustrophobia and widens the film to a global scope.
The real challenge with a film like this is making sure the audience is onboard. Mackenzie goes to great lengths to make the premise work and he and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson ask all the right questions. It is never important to understand what is causing the outbreak - only to try to understand how people react. While some people go looting through the streets, others seek solace in doing their best to restore order. In the case of Michael and Susan, their futile attempts to help people through their professions are superseded by an honest human desire to create something between them that can't be taken away.
Both Green and McGregor turn in very accomplished performances and it is fun to see Ewan reteam with Trainspotting co-star Ewen Bremner. Believing in the romance is crucial to the film's success as it ultimately drives the story. While it is very bold concept, Mackenzie is able to make it work - and the end result is a thought provoking, suspenseful and touching film.
[ Ryland Aldrich is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He blogs at enderzero.net ]