Today I went with Zach to an industry screening of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, the latest film from Run, Lola, Run director Tom Tykwer. Based on the novel Perfume by German author Patrick Süskind, the film, a thriller that takes place in 18th-century France, is about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), a curious man who lacks a personal odour, but has been endowed with an incomparable sense of smell. One evening, he comes across a beautiful woman selling plums, and is attracted to her scent. After accidentally killing her, he realizes that he needs to find a way to capture her smell. It’s this need to learn how to capture the scent of anything that drives him to eventually become an assistant to the famed perfume maker Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). While there, he learns his craft, and tries to distill the scents of things like copper and glass – and obviously fails. So he goes off to the “perfume capital” of Grasse, where he’s heard that there are other methods to extracting scent. At this point, the film turns darker, as Grenouille’s isolation from society and desire to capture womens’ scents drives him to start a murder spree, adding to his collection. Soon the town of Grasse is in a panic, and the manhunt is on.
The visual look of Perfume is eye popping. The squallor and dinginess of the slums of Paris are so visceral and well portrayed that you can almost smell the stink off the screen. I enjoyed Dustin Hoffman’s quirky portrayal as Baldini, but it’s clearly Whishaw’s performance as Grenouille that stands out. Disturbing, creepy, and yet sympathetic at times, Whishaw totally immerses himself in the role, and you certainly won’t forget it. There’s a bit of a plot in the second half of the film where Grenouille, seeking to complete his collection, has set his eyes on Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood), but her father Richis (played by Alan Rickman) is determined to make sure she’s kept safe. This plot is essential to the story, but goes on a tad longer than it should have, making the film drag a little. I will not say what happens, but I didn’t like the ending at all. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t think the film was good.
The music was done by Tykwer, along with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek (all three usually score the past films that Tykwer had directed). While they’re usually doing the whole electronica thing (to good effect in Run, Lola, Run and to horrible effect in The Cave), Perfume is different. Lush, orchestral, and thematic, the score stands out as a wonderful work, and I loved the use of soft female choir to represent the innocence of the girls that Grenouille is stalking.
I might have enjoyed it more than normal, since I had zero expectations, and hadn’t seen anything on it – even a trailer – beforehand. And while it’s hardly an easy film to watch, and I wasn’t a fan of the ending (but apparently it’s how the book ends), but Perfume has a lot going for it, and I’m glad I saw it. It might not be for everyone, but Perfume is certainly worth a look-see.