Perfume - The Story of a Murderer Review: A Remarkable Concoction
by Alex Billington
January 4, 2007
From Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) comes a rather peculiar story of a young man who is born with an impeccable sense of smell in France in the 1700s. Despite being distributed by DreamWorks, this is an independent film with a very surreal feeling that is worth much more than you'd imagine. Perfume is an elaborately visual and stylistic telling that exhibits much perfection in an experience on many of the senses.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is born in the dirty, pungent streets of Paris's fish market, and through fate survives and is taken to an orphanage. He soon discovers he has an exceptional sense of smell, so much so that he can sense what's behind walls or where a person is miles away. As he grows older, Jean-Baptiste realizes he wants to do more in his life than work the dirtiest jobs in Paris, and desires to be an apprentice for the once-great perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). As he is helping Baldini reestablish his reputation, he smells the amazing scent of a woman and sets out on a way to capture that scent, at any cost. He later travels to the town of Grasse to learn more about perfume-making, and it's here he starts murdering young women in the town so he can use a rare process to capture their essence. However, his creation will not be complete without the pinnacle, a beautiful redhead (Rachel Hurd-Wood), with whom he is infatuated.
The character of Jean-Baptiste is reminiscent of a superhero, but only with an immaculate sense of smell, and a much darker appreciation of life - the only use of women in his mind is their smell that he must capture forever, at any cost, even death. Perfume is an incredible creation with the right components to be thoroughly captivating. It's rare I find myself so fascinated at the story and anxiously awaiting every next scene, but Perfume kept that edge-of-the-seat grasp. I was deeply drawn into its very stylish presentation of the time period and incredible imagery that Tykwer spared no expense to conceive.
The only thing missing, beyond a script of worthwhile dialogue, were the actual smells. I sat wanting to take in every sense of the experience, wanting to smell his perfumes that he created. I could contest that it's nearly impossible to replicate that sense on screen, however it neared the moments when it actually did. I'm much too unfamiliar with the smell of nearly every flower and object to truly believe I could smell all of his perfumes. I'm surprised that the distributors didn't try distributing Odorama-style cards to theater patrons.
Perfume is less a revolutionary or visionary film than simply an immaculate filmmaking concoction that has no comparison. It's similar in a very defined mood visually to a Guillermo del Toro film, but still a unique project from Tykwer. It has some shining moments, but is not without its problems, primarily the script. It moves with wonderful musical overtones and visually dynamic styles all amidst harshly tacky lines of dialogue. Where is the master of screenwriting when one is needed to accompany the otherwise astounding film?
I can't leave off without mentioning two of the finest pieces of the film: the score and Ben Whishaw. Perfume contained brilliantly beautiful music - a perfect match in an aural sense as presented. Every smooth rhythm was pristine, serene, and pleasing, all a perfect accompaniment. Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste gave such a commanding and striking performance in a dark and very particular role. Another brilliant performance from a very young and new actor this year, along with Rudy Youngblood from Apocalypto.
Perfume deserves to get a full theatrical release, but is being touted as a limited independent. I can only guess that although Perfume is a phenomenal creation as fine as the perfume Jean-Baptiste creates, its dark, grotesque, and murderous nature combined with overly erotic interludes as massive as Caligola is too much for the typical audiences in our society to handle. Therefore our world loses the chance to see, hear, and smell, this masterpiece in the same way the nation of France forgave its ability to be in paradise from Jean-Baptiste's perfume. If you can get out to see this, make it a priority, as it's a must see.
It was mentioned before, but I have to mention it again - I really can say nothing less than remarkable. With the script and dialogue being the largest pitfall pulling it away from getting an even higher rating, almost every other filmmaking aspect is a uniquely masterful creation from Tykwer all lead by the incredible Ben Whishaw. Perfume is a film that will tug at your senses in every way possible, leaving only to desire most the ability to smell his perfumes and relish in paradise.