DIR: David McKenzie • WRI: Kim Fupz Aakeson • PRO: Gillian Berrie, Malte Grunert • DOP: Giles Nuttgens • ED: Jake Roberts • DES: Tom Sayer • CAST: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Connie Nielsen
Perhaps the last thing that audiences need right now (or at any time, let’s face it) is yet another hackneyed story about love overcoming all obstacles. However, with Perfect Sense, director David McKenzie, (Hallam Foe, You Instead) manages to re-invigorate this tired theme by setting a love story between a chef (Ewan McGregor) and an epidemiologist (Eva Green) against an apocalyptic backdrop of the havoc caused by a mysterious global pandemic which slowly and violently robs the population of their sensory functions. Starting with the sense of smell, humanity inexorably loses its gifts of perception and sections of society descend into chaos. Meanwhile, our central couple battle to keep calm and carry on, despite the apocalyptic forces descending on them. If this mix of sci-fi disaster and romance sounds just a bit daft, its because it is – but to credit David McKenzie and writer Kim Fupz Aakeson, they manage to craft an affecting and visually striking work from this dubious premise.
Set in a bleak Glasgow (which already looks a bit post-apocalyptic), Perfect Sense introduces us to Michael (McGregor) and Susan (Green), two professionals with unfulfilled love lives who meet behind the restaurant where McGregor works. Shortly after their initial meeting, the first symptoms of the obscure pandemic begin to emerge, and Michael and Susan find themselves thrown together out of a mutual need for human contact and safety. As they fall in love and experience the slow loss of their senses, society collapses around them as the population go on rampages of consumption and destruction, the symptoms of the pandemic wreaking havoc on the streets. Shortly before the loss of the sense of taste, we see everyone descend into a brief mania before taste deserts them forever, shoving anything at hand down their throats in a last-ditch frenzy of feasting – (prompting McGregor’s pastry chef buddy Ewen Bremner to enthusiastically knock back the contents of a gallon drum of vegetable oil in a blackly hilarious moment.
Many will have last seen Bremner as the hapless Spud in Trainspotting, and he appears to be playing the same semi-intelligible character here – it’s as if Spud managed to kick the smack some years ago and acquired a passion for patisserie in his late thirties.) These scenes of panic and mayhem provide the film with some of its most intense moments, evoking comparisons with modern end-of-the-world-scenario classic 28 Days Later. As McKenzie cleverly includes frantic montages suggesting the global nature of the catastrophe, the shadowy forces behind all of this remain obscure – but this is hardly significant since the pandemic really only serves as a device for exploring the ways in which we collectively take our senses for granted, as well as preaching the oft-proclaimed message of the enduring power of love.
McKenzie’s film ingeniously squeezes the most out of a modest budget to depict the terrifying carnage and destruction visited by the sense-stripping virus. He also manages to evoke a genuine poignancy in scenes of people coming to terms with the loss of their sensory gifts, appreciating the sound of tinkling glasses and breaking bread in a restaurant after the loss of taste, for example. Another oddly moving scene plays out in a rock club after the disease robs everyone of their hearing, as the audience throw their arms around pulsating amplifiers as a band pounds away in front of them, the music registering as only a muffled hum through the speakers. Sound design and editing are particularly effective in these scenes.
At the centre of the film though, it is Ewan McGregor and Eva Green who hold our focus, their torrid romance playing out as chaos rages around them. McGregor has never been better than he is here, he rages convincingly as the symptoms of violent mania take hold, and has a potent chemistry with the always impressive Eva Green. These powerful central performances give the film its considerable heart, and prevent things from lapsing into the self-importance which the portentous voiceover threatens occasionally. An excellent return to form for a director who badly blotted his copybook recently with the disastrous You Instead, Perfect Sense is a vivid celebration of the senses as well as a memorable and original depiction of love triumphing in catastrophic circumstances.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Perfect Sense is released on 7th October 2011