DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER

Sunday 22 July 2007


Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) dir. Tom Tykwer
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman


WOW. Perfume is an awesome film. Released at the tail end of 2006, it received mixed reviews and didn’t last too long in theatres. With it's DVD release this week, now is the time to discover the film. It’s macabre, amoral, disturbing but engrossing and thoroughly satisfying. It follows the life of a serial killer motivated by his highly sensitive sense of smell. The film is based on Patrick Susskind’s 1985 novel, which was labeled ‘unfilmable’ (by Stanley Kubrick no less). Enter Tom Tykwer, German director of “Run Lola Run” and the beautiful film “Heaven”. Tykwer and his German key creatives have created a masterpiece of genre, horror, and period. It’s an extraordinary experience and a must see.

It’s the mid 1700’s France. Narrator John Hurt describes to us the story of a most unusual child born in the dirty, smelly slums of Paris. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, unwanted from conception, we see him being birthed under a table at a fish market, umbilical cord cut with a skinning knife and kicked aside by his mother assuming it’s a still birth. This scene sets the tone for the film. It’s a dark, surreal fable told with a morbid wink of humour to the audience.

Jean-Baptiste discovers he has the most extraordinary sense of smell. He can smell as good as people can see, discerning shape, size, movement of people and objects. In his teens Baptiste is sold to a Paris tannery where he experiences Parisian life for the first time. The key moment in his life is his first meeting with a woman. The smell of her is so intoxicating he spends the rest of his life in pursuit of capturing the smell. This is where I’ll end the synopsis, because the less you know the better. But I can say that the film gets better and better all the way to the end – especially the end. WOW!

The story unfolds masterfully. Along the way we meet the surprisingly interesting character of Guiseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), Baptiste’s perfuming mentor, who teaches him the trade of recreating and constructing scents from oils and herbs. The challenge of portraying the sense of smell on screen is daunting. Where Susskind could use words to describe the sensation, Tykwer has to rely on sight, sound and performance to make the connection. Tykwer pulls it off thanks in part to the wonderful performance of Dustin Hoffman.

Ben Whishaw is a revelation as the disturbed protagonist. He murders and kills people for his own personal gain yet he’s engaging and likeable. Tykwer effectively sets up his character as damaged, broken down and a product of his environment. So in the most morbid way you sympathize with him. And since the film always retains the wink to the audience you actually want to see him complete his grand plan no matter how high the body count.

Period films are not my bag and though it’s set in 18th century France, “Perfume” is no costume drama. It bristles with pace and energy. But that’s no surprise. “Run Lola Run” set the bar for pace. But don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t style over substance. It’s stylish, but not flashy. Tykwer composes his music effectively as well. He channels the deep gothic murmurs of Richard Wagner performed by the Berlin Philharmonic to great effect.

“Perfume” is very dark and obsessive, but so very satisfying. The most awesome moment is the build up and climax at the end – it reminded me of the finale of “Seven”. Like John Doe’s masterplan, Grenoiulle’s finale hurrah is a sight to behold and is definitely worth the price of admission. Enjoy.

Buy it here: Perfume - The Story Of A Murderer

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