Perfect Sense an ambitious film that demands a lot from audience
David Mackenzie’s feature thought-provoking and quietly moving
This article is from 2011.
The weekend saw one of the biggest events of this year’s EIFF programme, as the massive Festival Theatre played host to the European premiere of David Mackenzie’s new film, the Glasgow-set sci-fi romance Perfect Sense, on Saturday night. I interviewed Mackenzie that morning, and he was admittedly nervous, saying, ‘our premiere was in Sundance in front of 1400 people and that was highly scary, so 1900 people, and in Edinburgh as well… I hope they like it!’ At least one audience member seemed pleased afterwards: the film’s star Ewan McGregor was back in Scotland to attend the screening and watch the film for the first time, 18 months after shooting it. ‘It’s gobsmacking’, was about as detailed as his post-film analysis got, and while you would expect nothing less than high praise from the film’s own star, Perfect Sense is the kind of movie that’s been provoking equally strong statements – both negative and positive – from everyone who’s seen it.
Telling the story of a global epidemic where everyone starts losing their senses one by one, but focusing mainly on one couple (McGregor and former Bond girl Eva Green), the film has already been dismissed by some critics as overacted and pretentious. But this writer found it quite the opposite. It’s a uniquely ambitious work in which Mackenzie picks up some fascinating ideas and uncompromisingly follows them through, and his cast are all on exactly the same page. Mackenzie demands a lot from the audience, but if you go with it, the film is thought-provoking and quietly moving. ‘What I saw in the script’, explained Mackenzie, ‘was a poetic attempt to tell the story of a possible end [of humanity], and that felt interesting to me. It felt like a subtle and rather magical way of looking at these things as opposed to a bombastic and genre-led thing.’ One of the films co-stars – another Trainspotting alumnus - is Ewen Bremner, and he seemed to me to get it dead right with this assessment of the film: ‘It will divide the audience between people who want to or need to maintain objective distance and an emotional defence, and people that are more willing to engage and emotionally go with it, because there’s something quite fairytale-like about it. To me it’s not a completely realist film, it’s more like a fairytale or a parable, and because of that it’s easier to let yourself go, because [you know] it’s a story. And I think stylistically David has allowed that distinction to be clear.’
It’s refreshing to find such bold ideas in a contemporary Scottish film, and it’s a mode that Mackenzie intends to remain in, as he embarks on his next project: ‘It’s [and adaptation of] a space sci-fi book by Toby Litt called Journey Into Space, and it’s quite messed-up. It’s going to be very hard to tell, as lead characters need to either get old or get knocked off twice in the film, so you have to disengage the audience. And it’s very expansive, a microcosm of potted human history. It’s quite ambitious, it might even have to become a trilogy in order just to tell the story, but there’s something really beautiful about it that I think could be good.’ As always with Mackenzie’s films, it sounds fascinating, and as with Perfect Sense, it sounds like it could take a while to make it to a cinema screen. ‘I’ve no idea where I’ll find the money for it,’ said Mackenzie happily, ‘but I’m about to start having a go at the script. Also, I haven’t written a script on my own, as it were, for a while, so I’m both looking forward to and slightly trepidatious about it!’