EIFF 2011 - PERFECT SENSE Review

This is a reprint of a review first published at BlogCritics.org 

After directing the likes of Hallam Foe and Young Adam, director David Mackenzie returns with an ambitious film about a global apocalypse, seen mostly through the eyes of a budding couple, played by Ewan McGregor (here re-teaming with Mackenzie) and Eva Green.

On an ordinary day reports start to flood in from all over the world of people losing their sense of smell. The government can't seem to locate the cause (Water supply? Toxin? Environmental issue? No one seems to know.) and despite telling everyone that the "virus" is not contagious they can't be certain. More and more people get infected and eventually the world starts to return to at least some form of normality. However, just as the world has gotten used to a life without smell another sense is lost... and then another and then another...


With a big help from Max Richter's wonderfully bleak score, Mackenzie manages very skillfully to convey a simultaneous sense (no pun intended) of both hopefulness and hopelessness. That may sound strange but just in the same way as films such as John Hillcoat's The Road or Alfonso Cuarón's Children of MenPerfect Sense gets you to feel fear that everything isn't going to be all right but at a same time having a strong hope that it might.


The film almost takes the form of different stages i.e. broken up into different segments each time the world loses another one of their senses. And it manages to do something quite unexpectedly powerful and poignant - it makes you appreciate the senses you have and probably take for granted every single day. Just as the loss of taste, for instance, occurs the feeling of appreciation for the remaining senses is just as strong as the regret of losing the senses that have already been lost.


Throughout the film there is a voiceover that could have been unnecessary and pretentious but it helps to add to the notion that we are looking in on a worldwide apocalypse of sorts without necessarily being part of it. Having said that, however, Mackenzie does employ some fairly simple techniques to often put you in the shoes of the people this loss of sense is happening to. This is amplified as the film progresses, particularly when showing (possible SPOILER ahead) the effect of losing hearing and eventually sight.

At the center of this worldwide pandemic are McGregor and Green, who clearly have a lot of good chemistry and are responsible for some of the films more intimate moments. The couple are simultaneously our literal link to experiencing the pandemic and a way for the film to successfully explore ideas of what it means to truly connect with somebody. This aspect is perhaps a bit on the heavy-handed side but the overall premise is over-the-top in itself so it really works well.

Perfect Sense (and what a perfect title that is) isn't necessarily trying to comment on and/or offer a solution to the many problems the world faces; it never once blames the pandemic on any one thing (more a case of "suspect everything"). It merely utilizes what isn't an entirely unbelievable worldwide disease to show how the world would come together in their tragedy, trying their best to hold on to what humanity and normalcy they can in the most dire of circumstances. Haunting.

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