Perfect Sense, Edinburgh Film Festival

The magic ingredient's missing
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The Independent Culture

Perfect Sense is an ingeniously scripted romantic drama set against an apocalyptic backcloth. Scottish director David Mackenzie – reunited with star Ewan McGregor for the first time since Young Adam – takes a thoughtful and often lyrical approach to material that, in other hands, could easily have lapsed into sci fi/horror movie cliché.

The downside is that the film doesn't tug at the emotions in the way that might have been anticipated. Nor does it possess quite the shock value that an exploitation pic might have had.

McGregor plays Michael, a chef in an upmarket restaurant. He is not as irascible as Gordon Ramsay but prowls round his kitchen in proprietary fashion, bantering away with his sous-chef (Ewen Bremner, famously seen with McGregor in Trainspotting.) He treats women badly, having one-night stands but refusing to commit to relationships.

While he's impulsive, a beautiful young doctor, Susan (Eva Green) who lives opposite the restaurant, is of a far cooler and more measured temperament. They begin an affair.

Danish writer Kim Fupz Aakeson's screenplay imagines a world in which the inhabitants are slowly losing their senses – and, as they do so, becoming emotional and grief-stricken. Smell is first to go and then taste. Fat and flour become the staple ingredients of everyone's diets. People adjust. Life goes on. Then, "severe hearing-loss syndrome kicks in".

McGregor is playing a slightly older variation of the jack-the-lads he often portrayed earlier in his career, from Renton in Trainspotting to the barge operator in Young Adam. The difference is that Michael is chafing against the emptiness in his life.

The storytelling style is deliberately restrained. Mackenzie cleverly approaches outlandish material in a subdued and intimate way. Gilles Nuttgens' cinematography emphasises greys and browns. The score by Max Richter (reminiscent of Arvo Part at his most lugubrious) adds to the mournful mood. Just occasionally, Mackenzie ventures into more familiar sci-fi territory. For example, in one effectively grotesque sequence, we see the characters suddenly struck by ravenous hunger, desperately eating anything that's to hand, whether it's raw fish, lipstick, soap or flowers.

As people are reduced to their most animalistic, the very concept of romance seems fragile and absurd. At the same time, their relationship is all they have to cling to. Perfect Sense makes this point in a thoughtful enough way but what the film lacks is the sweep and grandeur of a truly epic love story.

Edinburgh Film Festival to 26 June (