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Friday, Jan. 6, 2012
Romance lights even the darkest hour
Will the world end with a whimper or a bang? That may well depend on whether you're at the multiplex or the art house. While blockbusters continue to relish the visual bombastics of Armageddon (the most wanton example being "2012"), a number of smaller films are also delving into the dark dramatic potential of the end days.
"The Road" (2010) was a stark, realist look at the "Mad Max" scenario, while Lars Von Trier's forthcoming "Melancholia" is a gorgeous, miserabilist foray into Michael Bay material, with an asteroid hitting the Earth. This month, however, sees the grim Glaswegian film "Perfect Sense" appear with a new take on the viral apocalypse.
This time it's not the Rage Virus ("28 Days Later") nor the walking dead nor intelligent ape strains; it's a mystery outbreak that attacks the five senses. First to go is smell, and the question is whether taste, vision, hearing and touch will follow.
"Perfect Sense" follows a couple on the brink of falling for each other hard. He (Ewan McGregor) is a hardworking chef at an upscale Glasgow restaurant who is afraid of getting too deeply involved; she (Eva Green) is a similarly work-focused epidemiologist who's been burned by enough men in the past. In other words, they'd have a tough enough time of it even if society wasn't crumbling before their eyes.
But crumbling it is. The loss of each sense is also preceded by the onset of emotional disorder: extreme grief, ravenous hunger, out-of-control anger and worse. As more and more people are infected, life starts to unravel, and our lovers soon find the only thing they have left is each other.
Director David Mackenzie ("Young Adam") aims for an elegiac mood, and for the most part he nails it, thanks to Green's numbed narration and a yearning string-based score by Max Richter. Green and McGregor turn it on, and skillfully sketch out their once-burned twice-shy wariness that succumbs slowly to passion. Both actors are also relaxed enough with their clothes off to give their scenes in bed together an emotional and physical intimacy that is so rarely achieved in cinema.
Yet while "Perfect Sense" scores in creating characters who pull us into the story, it loses its nerve when it comes to depicting the collapse of life as we know it. Perhaps Mackenzie was afraid of veering too close to zombie-movie cliche, but a little more panic and terror would have added some urgency to the film. As is, Mackenzie's end of the world seems rather tame compared with the real-life chaos and disorder that marked, say, last summer's London riots.
It's not all grim: Ewen Bremner, provides some welcome comic relief as a sous-chef who adapts quite well to the task of making food for punters who cannot taste anything. A scene where a food critic waxes poetic on his texture-based creations is priceless. But then there are scenes that wobble between eerie and absurd: The infected who are seized by the insatiable hunger syndrome gorge themselves on whatever's at hand, including lipstick, flowers and cooking oil. No doubt this is destined for much amusing commentary from munchies-afflicted stoners on YouTube.
There is, of course, the fact that Fernando Meirelles already imagined a similar epidemic in 2008's "Blindness." Mackenzie takes a different enough perspective to make this worth a look, although it's clearly not the cheeriest way to start off a new year already pregnant with apocalyptic predictions.