I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Saturday 17 March 2012
Touching Skin in the Dark: ‘Perfect Sense’ directed by David Mckenzie Part I
Without warning you are inconsolable, grief
rips you apart, you are overwhelmed by what might have been, ghosts of past
lovers, shadows and memories of the departed. You are poleaxed. Bus drivers
come to a stop and sob at the wheel. People howl at the sky. A traffic warden
falls to her knees and weeps uncontrollably in a bright sunny street.
Your world of recollection is under
assault. Memories are fragmenting. Then without any warning, your sense of
smell vanishes. Suddenly you are asnomic. The one sense linked directly to
memory, the slideshow and album of who you are, the elusive movie flickering with
faces, places, sounds and scents. Gone.
This is the disturbing scenario played out
in David McKenzie’s poignantly crafted film ‘Perfect Sense’, starring Ewan McGregor
and Eva Green tentatively trying to love as the world falls away from them. It is
described as sci-fi/thriller. It is really neither. There are elements of both,
but it is essentially a love story, of complex and painful love, born against
the odds, a race against oncoming darkness. It is also an atmospheric
exploration of our relationship with our senses and how they connect to us to
each other and the world around us.
The sci-fi references refer to the unknown
virus that suddenly appears across the globe causing the initial symptoms of
grief and asnomia. It doesn’t kill, but infiltrates the world, causing crashing
waves of sadness, followed by the loss of smell. With it goes memory. There are
periods of adjustment as people seem to adapt and move on, waiting to see what
will happen next. The virus moves like SARS or bird flu, quietly, calmly. It is
an epidemic, unpredictable, but with momentum and insidious intent.
First, overwhelming grief and then no sense
of smell. That’s the disease. They call it Severe Olfactory Syndrome. SOS.
and hypnotic voice over by Kathy Engels narrates the breakdown of world order
and associated progression of the virus and its mutations. These global
glimpses flicker throughout the film, in clips of film and stills. They are
shot beautifully with verve and immediacy. Cut with footage of real war,
pandemic coverage and riots, the images lend urgency and despair to the central
claustrophobic love story.
is cast In Perfect Sense as a lad
about town chef, busy, stylish and oddly empty. He is aging well. Chunkier,
more sensual. I like him as an actor, I know many don’t. He has a presence and
charm on screen and takes risks many actors are not prepared to take. He can be
intensely sexual, loving, moving and amusing. He can also be flat, dull and
just god-awful. (The Island anyone?).
But his work in Velvet Goldmine by
Todd Haynes, The Pillow Book for
Peter Greenaway, Young Adam, also by
David McKenzie, the more recent and utterly charming Beginners and his fabulously fey southern turn in I love You Phillip Morris have showcased
his charm and versatility.
In Perfect Sense he is Michael,
charismatic, grinning and full of the banter. Never falling in love, loving
sex, loving the ladies, but unable to commit, unable to even sleep in his own bed
if there is someone in it with him. He likes to keep his distance. The TV chef style
vacancy suits his character; he loves his work, surrounded by a white suited
posse of chefs, sous-chefs and underlings. A nice touch is the restaurant owner
played by his real-life uncle Denis Lawson.
is Susan, an epidemiologist, working at one of the city’s main hospitals. Her
apartment overlooks the back of Michael’s restaurant and so fate starts to
meddle. She and her colleagues desperately struggle to understand the nature
and intent of the virus. I must admit I am not the greatest fan of Eva Green;
she can be a cold performer, whose strange predatory beauty is rarely served
well on screen. For many she will always be Vesper Lynd. She was truly
beautiful and original in the role and made you understand why Bond might mourn
and kill forever.
French/Swedish mélange gives her a hooded sensuality that calls to mind the
dangerous and unsettling magnetism of Charlotte Rampling. But whereas Rampling
has always been open to exploring the darkness within, Eva Green has for me
been a little disappointing in her career arc to date, relying on a lot of
nudity and rather blunt performances. Her role in Sparks, directed by Jordan Scott last year was excellent however,
playing an enigmatic teacher causing sensual mayhem at an all girls school. A
kind of debauched Miss Brodie. Her oddness and detachment serve her well in Perfect Sense. She haunts the film. Unable
to have children and filled with memories of a father she adored, she is
emotionally adrift and buried in her research.
Michael’s tentative courtship and deepening love plays out against the viral
backdrop of the sensory epidemic as the worlds slips slowly into degrees of
panic and recovery. There is no closure, no predictability, and no patterns.
Just a disturbing certainty that one by one the senses will erode and vanish.
It is a
simple yet shattering premise. A global sensory loss. Watching it unfold
through the lens of Susan and Michael’s relationship is very moving, as they
stumble into their love, ignite it and fight to keep it burning as all the
normal markers of everyday life and living are stripped away.
rolls across the world like water. Susan and Michael are weighed down by
memory. Her father, his guilty visits to his mother’s grave. Their strained and
fevered sexual encounters. As is usual with these films, a lot of time is spent
convincing you that beautiful people are essentially unhappy. It does not quite
pull that off, but Eva Green does melancholy rather beautifully with her baleful
eyes and flattened out delivery of lines. There are moments however when she smiles;
it feels like sun burning through rain.
stumbles a little with the big emotions from time to time; they play out a
little too obviously across his face and delivered with the eager shine of
drama school role-playing. But he grows into his persona and as his feelings really
take hold and he realises what he might lose and what it left to hold onto, he
becomes quiet hypnotic to watch, digging into something primal to express his last
chance at loving someone.
defines them. They are witnesses to each other’s debilitating grief. She weeps
for the memory of her father who called everyone sailor. He cries next to her in the dark of the bed. In the
morning, they calmly realise their sense of smell has vanished and their world
has shifted forever. It is startling to watch and reminds us how connected to
the sense of smell we are. With its loss goes a myriad connections to the past.
The greater loss are the memories that are no
longer triggered. Smell and memory are connected in the brain. Cinnamon
might’ve reminded you of your grandmother’s apron. The scent of cut hair could
evoke a childhood fear of cows. Diesel oil might bring back memories of your
first ferry crossing. Without smell, an ocean of past images disappears.
rages. More senses fail. Cities weep, riot and slowly crumble. All this is seen
in a series of reportage flashes intercut with glimpses of Michael and Susan
struggling to work and love as the parameters of routine are eaten away. There
are attempts at normality, re-adjustment. Smell becomes texture and sound.
There is a wonderful scene where a street performer engages a group of people
including Michael and Susan with music and touch; she uses a leaf drawn across
a cheek, pungent words, a bow quivering on strings to evoke the smells of the
forest where the leaf might have once hung.
become ultra sweet, ultra sharp. The sounds of the restaurant are thrown more
sharply into focus, the sound of place settings, wine in the glass, a knife on
a plate, conversation. McKenzie and his cinematographer Gilles Nuttgen use some
luminous images, a multitude of simple yet complex concepts. Fluttering trash,
masked cyclists, sunlit pipe bands, a love of shadowed rooms, religious
fanatics, doomsayer’s tears and feverish skin.