PERHAPS THE title of this film, The Five Senses, is a piece of willful misdirection; more likely, it's another illustration of art's ability to outdo its artist. Writer/director Jeremy Podeswa has placed a self-conscious title on an unselfconscious film, the virtues of which far exceed the formal detail referred to in the title.

True, the masseuse, the man going deaf, the baker of cakes, the man with the sensitive sniffer, and the ophthalmologist account for each physical sense. But the film isn't about the senses at all; it's about sensuality beyond the senses, where the texture of a hardwood pew makes the sound of a church choir, and badly baked bread is a moral transgression.

Yet the film is by no means a mere formal exercise. It is a delicate, lovely portrayal of the spaces between people: family, neighbors, strangers, lovers, and friends. Taking its cue from the tangential narratives of Robert Altman, Podeswa's film follows the various lives of several tenants in a single building. Their lives rarely intersect, but the movie doesn't worry about that; instead, it lets each story swell, crest, and recede alone. The effect is ultimately lifelike.

At the center of the film is beauty: specifically, beautiful people. Two beautiful mothers confer while their beautiful daughters step out to the park across the street. The teen comes back alone, having somehow lost the little baby in the park. Meanwhile, a rugged French expat listens to his own ears failing, and an impossibly gorgeous Italian man who speaks no English enthusiastically joins the girl of his (and my) dreams here in America, in her well-lit apartment with a well-appointed kitchen.

We know of the victimless crime; The Five Senses is unified by the crimeless victim. The horror of a baby gone missing--desperate hope battling stark fear, all things possible in the unknown future--is so huge that this tension bleeds immediately into each narrative in the film. The revelation is this: Bizarre circumstances have their own logic and tensions, but then, so does every circumstance. Each life is a struggle of hope versus fear, no matter how banal the conflict or the prize.