EIFF 2011 Film Review: Perfect Sense

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Not just a bad pun?

(Perfect Sense, David MacKenzie, UK, 2010, 90 mins)

Perfect Sense presents itself as a major event at the festival, reuniting director David MacKenzie and star Ewan McGregor – last seen together in the former’s dazzling debut Young Adam, which premiered at Edinburgh in 2003. It rapidly became apparent this is a smaller film, if not in ambition then certainly in accomplishment – a footnote to the otherwise inexorable upward trajectory of both men’s careers.

In Glasgow, a head chef called Michael (Ewan McGregor) and an epidemiologist named Susan (Eva Green) go about their daily lives quite incredulously. Skulking behind the restaurant, whose back-alley runs beneath Susan’s window, Michael fails (at first) to charm her icy scientist pants off with his cheeky patter. Perhaps it’s her sophisticated bullshit radar, flagging him up at great distance as the (terrible) bastard he is; or maybe she secrets her own predictable personal tragedy: a wound Michael can only heal by first getting into those pants, then thawing his way to her heart.

Perhaps this makes Perfect Sense sound exciting, or at least dirty. But unlike the erotically charged Young Adam, this is a weepy, limp (post-apocalyptic) romance. An amorphous illness is affecting unlucky punters across the globe and everyone appears to be literally losing their senses; from the ensuing panic, they seem to have mistaken this for a zombie movie. Some of the ideas at play are quite intriguing: first, they lose sense of smell, via an acute emotional breakdown (overwhelmed by all they have lost in life); next they lose taste, through a hideous bout of hunger (devouring any and all things in sight). MacKenzie is at home with such sensual subject matter, but pushes these images nauseatingly far at times.

Otherwise beautiful to look at, it may be, but Green and McGregor seem undirected with alarming regularity. MacKenzie is a proven talent, so perhaps we can blame the screenplay by Kim Fupz Aakeson: maybe his words lose their credibility in translation from the Danish. Beside a bit of comic banter between the kitchen staff (Ewen Bremner, of Trainspotting fame, stands out from the crowd) the dialogue lacks any spark. Susan insists on calling everyone “sailor”, so that they may solicit exposition on her family history. This affectation ought not be delivered with such idiosyncrasy as to make Green seem wooden and call attention to its instrumental function. A real sense of personality never fully emerges for either of the leads, despite the gratuitous paroxysms of emotion demanded by those peculiar plot mechanics.

Sadly, these ideas are only pursued beyond their bare presentation through preachy voice-over narration, which is at no point necessary and is nearly as cloying as the melodramatic piano concerto score. While watching grown men and women of every ethnicity devour gross quantities of condiments and raw flesh, a spot of heavy metal seems more appropriate, or less disingenuous.

All such minutiae aside, Perfect Sense is not just a bad pun, but also a film with a heart. Its essence is romance, and the affair between Michael and Susan does hold an emotional charge. Consider the impending apocalypse unnecessary pseudo-philosophical window-dressing for a satisfying journey of two broken hearts toward recovery. Or is this merely the rationalisation of a reviewer traumatised by disappointment? That’s for me to know and you to find out.

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