Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Austin Film Festival ’06)

By  · Published on October 28th, 2006

Release Date: January 5, 2007

Dustin Hoffman. Alan Rickman. Have I sold you on the movie yet? As if going to see two brilliant actors together in one movie isn’t enough incentive, throw in the fact that it’s directed by Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) and has a cast of capable, rising stars telling the story of a young man romantically obsessed with scent who turns murderous in a quest to change the world.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) has a gift. He has a better sense of smell than most hunting dogs, and he puts this skill to good use by seeking out the great perfumer Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) in an effort to become a master scent-maker himself. His talent is raw, but his young mind is captured by the scent of a beautiful woman, and he sets out to recreate this natural intoxicant for the whole world to experience. Set in 18th century France, everything in this world is romantic and passionate. But Jean-Baptiste’s artistic passion turns dark as he begins murdering young girls on his quest for beauty.

Perfume is a film about many things – a Frankenstein-esque tale of a man’s talents overcoming his mental processes, a story of darkness and beauty, and a question of whether evil produces anything good. It is an excellent mix of amazing cinematography and direction wherein the deep, dirt world of the French gutter is brought to life alongside the fantasy world that envelopes those lucky enough to sample young Jean-Baptiste’s bottles. It is a gorgeous piece of art that engages and pushes the audience to see each character as a complex puzzle of good and bad.

The acting is what pulls the film together, though, as without these performances, Perfume could have been a bland period piece. Ben Whishaw holds his own as Jean-Baptiste, playing against immense talents, as does Rachel Hurd-Wood (Peter Pan) who proves that British acting schools continually produce impressive results. The acting was pivotal, because the characters are true. They aren’t flat representations of life – but breathing beings made possible by impeccable dialogue and honest acting.

It’s a good movie, with a few minor problems. One is pacing. There are moments in Perfume that are quick and jolting and others that seem to drag quite a bit. Another is editing. Some of the scenes are cut in awkward ways that seem to throw the audience into the next scene. It may be deliberate, but even then, it doesn’t always work.

Minor problems are not going to sink this film, and it should do well in theaters. If you’re a fan of historical films, this is definitely something different worth checking out. Think of it as a grotesque version of Beauty and the Beast. Only don’t bring the kids.

The Upside: Something different that works.

The Downside: Pacing can be awkward at times, and some editing choices don’t help that.

On the Side: The list of directors previously attached or interested in making Perfume is an all-star line up: Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, Milos Forman and even Stanley Kubrick.

Final Grade: A-

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