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Movie Review: Perfume – The Story of a Murderer

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When you think of perfume, you very rarely think about movies. One reason for this is that the two give you such different sensations. Perfume is an olfactory sensation – a smell. Movies give you both audible and visual sensations – images and sounds. It is almost implausible to think that these two sensory experiences could ever cross paths. But don’t tell that to the makers of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, for they seem to think that even a film can omit a scent.

But before we go into whether Perfume comes out smelling like a rose or manure, it is necessary to understand what the film is all about. Perfume is the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), a boy born with a highly superior olfactory sense who becomes obsessed with preserving all of the world’s smells. There to help him (and profit from his amazingly keen sense of smell) is Italian perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), who shows Grenouille how to turn scent into oil and make fine perfumes.

Perfume: The Story of a MurdererAnd it is up to this point that the film feels almost normal, at its worst just a dark fairy tale. That is, until Grenouille’s obsession takes a strange turn. He becomes so infatuated with making the perfect perfume that he travels to Grasse, a city filled with immaculate scents and beautiful young women, whose smell is also quite attractive to Grenouille. Incapable of just loving women like a normal 18th century Frenchman, Grenouille sets forth on a path of murder, slaying a dozen or so beautiful women so that he can use their scents to possibly make a perfume that would bring a man to his knees.

And from there on out the film is just one twisted, disturbing and yet whimsical twist after another, leading right up to one of the most jaw-dropping endings that I have seen in a while. You won’t drop your jaw because you didn’t see it coming, but you will think to yourself, “I can’t believe they actually did that.” It is a visual that you just have to experience for yourself.

As for giving a film the sensation of smell, director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) uses vibrant colors beautifully to enhance those items that plague Grenouille’s keen nose. From the bright red hair of a beautiful maiden to the lush grass in a meadow, some colors stand out for a reason – they make your mind create the sensation of smell out of sheer memory. It creates a third method of enjoyment right next to an intriguing story and a visual feast.

The performance of 26-year-old Brit Ben Whishaw (Layer Cake) is also a key to the film’s success. Whishaw has a deep, cold stare that speaks volumes for Grenouille, whose personality is less than appealing to the outside world. He also has the ability to use that coldness to make Grenouille one extremely creepy but lovable character, giving this twisted fairy tale its hero.

And while the hero does start killing people about halfway through the film, there is a certain lightheartedness to it. For some reason, we understand him, forgive him and then want him to win in the end. Perhaps it is great storytelling that allows us to disregard the moral implications of Grenouille’s killings, or perhaps it is just some subconscious human perversion. Either way, we keep watching right up until the end. And what do we get for our due diligence? A film that doesn’t necessarily smell perfect, but does smell interesting.

Release Date: December 27, 2006 (limited)

Final Grade: 4 Stars

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About Neil Miller

  • Tom Watson

    I went to see Perfume, having read nothing about it, and without exposure to any reviews. I was advised by friends though, that the book was very good, so I thought I would be in for an enjoyable couple of hours, if a faithful, or at least a decent attempt at translating this had been achieved.

    What I saw was possibly one of the worst films I have witnessed in recent times. The Narrator spoke patronisingly, as if reading a children’s story… and the film, set in France was packed with actors speaking in various regional english accents. I couldn’t even tell what accent Dustin Hoffman was attempting to put on, it wavered so much.

    OK, so maybe one can put these things to one side, because perhaps the storyline of the film overrides such negatives…Not the case for me- the plot in the film was nothing more than one could expect when viewing an ITV drama, and a bad one at that.

    When the spell of Jean Baptiste’s murders began to occur with more frequeny, later in the film, I laughed as each took place, such was the awful manner in which the film attempted to create a drama of each individual episode.

    The climactic scene towards the end film, had me squirming in my seat with embarrassment, and I was silently praying for it to end, since myself and the friend I had gone to see Perfume with were fighting to resist giggling fits brought about through sheer disbelief that such a scene had been created and filmed in the first place.

    The question we asked each other at the end was “Did we really just see that??” In fact I had tried not to see as much as it as possible as I had covered my eyes, I was so appalled.

    And to anyone reading this, no I am not a prude, and enjoy a sex scene as much as the next person… but this, this was just the most outlandish and downright silly going on in a film that was otherwise doing not very much.

    I was so surprised at how bad it was, that I read up on the film afterwards, and was taken aback by the number of good reviews it appears to have attained.

    A low score from me, but if you want a laugh at something corny, get yourself along to Perfume: The Story of A Murderer

  • Drew Ridama

    This was a terrible film… horrendously misogynistic at it’s heart – that a woman’s smell is the smell to beat all smells, talk about objectification… The reviewer misses an important point in his critic, it wasn’t just men that found the smell irresistible, but strangely woman as well. There was a lot of guy on girl and girl on guy action, and some girl on girl action, but the most powerful aromatic drug in history was still not enough to cause a guy to touch a guy? Is this the best a European film can do in 2006?

  • Dennis

    After seeing this film, I thought “now that’s different”, and to me that’s what makes this a good film. It’s not a cookie cut formula film.

    First of all, the main character is a strange person, he’s a murderer and his obsessions are all that matters.. you are not supposed to like him. He doesn’t interact well with people, and I thought that he was well played.

    That there are two twists at the end seems to be lost on those of you obsessing on the sexual scene.. and the last twist is perfect.. and in character with the character of Grenouille. The controversial scene, is what it is, it may seem to be over the top, unless you are trying to hammer home the point that Grenouille was in total control with his concoction.(although this is explained in the narration, which I liked by the way)

    I have also read reviews after the fact.. and those that I read were not favourable. To each their own, I liked it for it’s originality.

  • hgjdfghfghg

    worst…movie…ever.

    See also:

    Home of the Brave

  • http://www.kogmedia.com patrick

    e movie was decently well made in general, the character building and story moves along. Perfume says a lot about human nature at least.

  • Richard Batley

    Beautifully filmed, superb colour, terrific costuming – and the ultimate in buttock clenching directing, particularly of close ups of extras doing their best to act out feeble-mindedness. I’ll give it one star for the entertainment it gave me by prompting spoken retorts to some of the most inane dialogue imaginable – did it really take three people to come up with such jarring dross? Sat through it absolutely fascinated by what seemed to me a cinematic disaster. I can only be thankful I watched this at home- the men in white coats would have been hauling me away if in a cinema.

  • barum khan niazi

    v intrusting movie…haven’t seen a movie liuke this 4 a while…hero did a gr8 job…he just kept rolling the movie…and the ending waz mind blowing…yea some things weren’t defined well..nyhow worth a watch:)

  • Anna

    I can’t believe that there are such narrow-minded comments about this movie. Yes, the narrator sounded like he was telling a fairy tale and that’s called sarcasm. The movie pays so much attention to detail, however most viewers watch only Hollywood fast-pased action films and cannot appreciate the beauty of this one. Yes, it is controversial. That’s what makes it so unique. It is not a lively, Disney film with a happy ending. It is not designed to entertain, but to be thought-provoking. It is one of the few films of today’s cinema that is truly art. The sceneries, the realistic looks of the people, the soundtrack, the grotesque images… I can go on like this forever. It is truly a masterpiece and people that do not appreciate it, obviously cannot appreciate any non-conformist form of art.

  • James

    Some people need to learn the appreciation of the nature that is Gothic literature. An excellent movie surpassing that of Sweeny Todd.

  • Drew Ridama

    Er James, this was not gothic literature, it was a (recently written) nasty pretence. I’m actually a fan of the book, and one reason I hated this film so much is it’s utter failure to do the story justice. Instead of snide comments questioning the understanding of critics you don’t agree with how about some valid points to back up your view. It’s always easy to denegrate, little trickier to be constructive.
    Anna, I’m glad to hear that you can go on like that for ever. But that ain’t ever gonna make it a masterpiece. You assume that people who didn’t like it to people who only like Hollywood pap. An accusation that has no basis, just because it was all new and exciting for you does not make it great.
    Dennis, the story only seemed original to you because you haven’t read the book. The film was just a pastiche, a bad one.