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Perfect Sense (2011)
Director: David Mackenzie

review by Jim Steel

One of the main pleasures of Taggart, for those of us who lived in the Glasgow area at any rate, was seeing how those streets and building look when placed upon a screen. What sort thing does that do to scale? How much do we really see? It is a useful skill that gives us a sense of perspective when we come to view those familiar Hollywood vistas. Believe me, it certainly wasn't the robotic plot lunching through its punch-card programming that held our interest.

Taggart's long gone but, recently, the centre of Glasgow was subsumed by the 'World War Z' production crew as they made the place over to look like Philadelphia during a zombie apocalypse. Those couple of weeks of filming attracted a massive amount of interest and not just from Brad groupies. Yellow cabs and 'walk/ don't walk' signs made tourists of everyone for a while. That makes it all the more remarkable that this little gem slipped through with so little fuss. Glasgow has never looked more beautiful than it does here. Is this what Parisians experience when they see their city on the screen?

The casting is superb as well, which certainly helps with the sense of place. Ewan McGregor plays Michael; a lothario who is just about to drop into middle age. Michael is a chef and a smoker. Susan is a scientist who stays in a flat that overlooks the alley behind Michael's restaurant. She is also a smoker and, well... McGregor is reunited with Ewen Bremner, who was Spud in 'Carry in Injecting' (alias, Trainspotting) and here plays James; another chef and a friend of Michael. The restaurant owner is played by the ever-dependable Denis Lawson who (maybe not so) coincidently enough, is director David Mackenzie's uncle. The restaurant is quite unusual for a cinematic place of work; everybody gets on with each other and cares about the craft of their job. Given what is about to befall them, this is probably a good thing.

Susan is played by Eva Green, an actress who surely possesses one of the most expressive faces in modern cinema. Remarkably, she can actually smile when pointing the corners of her mouth down. She is an epidemiologist at a medical research laboratory who, one day, is summoned to a hospital by her boss (Stephen Dillane). They have a patient in isolation; a lorry driver who suffered a breakdown and burst into tears. He appears alright now but, this being Glasgow, his wife thought that it obviously warranted a visit to the hospital. He seems fine but he has lost his sense of smell. Isolated cases are popping up throughout the world but soon the numbers avalanche. Cause unknown.

People are briefly overwhelmed with remorse before losing their sense of smell; smell being the sense that most closely evokes memory. The feeling of remorse is luckily so overwhelming that it precludes any possibility of suicide. (In one particularly effective scene, Glasgow-spotters, a #44 bus grinds to a halt in Glassford Street when the driver succumbs.) Both Susan and Michael succumb in rapid succession which kick-starts their relationship. The restaurant business, after a rocky week or two, bounces back when the staff, quite literally, spice everything up.

The next loss in this low-key apocalypse is our sense of taste which this time hits everyone at once after a hunger frenzy. The restaurant survives; not because people still have to eat, but because they like the social aspect. The chefs experiment with texture and colour. Over the months, the other senses eventually go and, despite shots from around the world that show attempts to deal with this, humanity looks as if it is facing extinction. It's not the most scientifically rigorous of ailments - our sense of taste, of course, is actually five different senses - but few people complain about the much more ridiculous problem of zombie infection. Believe me; your suspension of disbelief will be able to cope with this one.

Michael and Susan both have their back-stories filled out with just enough detail to round them out as characters, although having Susan leave at one stage because of Michael's symptoms does stretch our credulity. She may be under a great deal of stress but she, of all people, should understand what is going on. Possibly there are underlying psychological flaws in Michael that are only revealed by this symptom but, again, this is not clear from the narrative and seems unlikely given the overall story arc. It appears that characterisation has been sacrificed on the altar of dramatic tension on this occasion. It's a rare flaw.

What is becoming apparent, though, is that David Mackenzie is evolving into one of our most confident and interesting filmmakers. His next one has been filmed during the weekend of the 'T in the Park' rock festival. How's that for ambition?

Perfect Sense



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