Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

Scent Of A Woman

Editor's Note: This review was originally published in 2007.
When I first read about Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, I wasn’t very impressed. It sounded like a tame serial killer flick about a young man with a nose for murder. I skimmed over the review (which I rarely do) and continued on my merry way. However, I got a copy and decided to give it a chance. When the closing credits began to roll, I remained in my seat, attempting to put a finger on any of the hundreds of emotions that were running through my body. I felt moved, saddened, enlightened, awed, and more importantly, angry at myself for dismissing this film before I even gave it a chance.

Perfume tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grunuis (Ben Whishaw), who is born in the slums of 18th century Paris. To make things worse, he literally plops out of his vagrant mother who is working at a fish market and lands in a pile of fish guts. And so begins his wonderful, yet, heartbreaking relationship with the sense of smell. Jean-Baptiste has an exceptional olfactory sense and uses it to teach himself about things, (being that nobody else cares enough to do so); particularly things with beautiful smells. Constantly neglected and looked down upon, a now slightly older Jean-Baptiste works at a tannery where he’s cruelly beaten and mistreated, working for next to nothing. When acclaimed Parisian perfumist Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) comes to the tannery, Jean-Baptiste begs to work for him. Baldini refuses immediately, leaving Jean-Baptiste to his life of torment. When delivering Baldini’s tanning order, Jean-Baptiste finds out that Baldini is having trouble creating a new scent and that his rival perfumist has created something amazing that’s going to put him out of business. Using his acute sense, Jean-Baptiste takes one whiff of the perfume, then without even reading the bottles, uses his talent to gather every ingredient needed to make the scent. Baldini is left floored and realizes that if he wants to continue his work, he needs this kid. The two continue to work together to create magnificent perfumes that enamour the richest of Parisians, but Jean-Baptiste still isn’t satisfied.

After he follows a young woman whose scent attracts his attention, he confusingly murders her and then proceeds to smell every inch of her body. He is obsessed with this scent and can’t understand how to capture it. Shortly after her death, the scent fades away and he is left broken and confused. Determined to capture the perfect scent, Jean-Baptiste ventures on a grisly and dark journey of murder and obsession in order to perfectly capture what he believes to be the human soul, the key ingredient to the perfect scent. He’s able to prow and conduct his experiments without suspicion until he lays his eyes on the beautiful daughter of wealthy and upper-class Parisian, Lord Richie (the always stellar Alan Rickman), who is determined that his daughter will not be the next variable in Jean-Baptiste’s work.

Perfume is literally and metaphorically a beautiful film. As of 2006, this was the most expensive German movie ever filmed and it shows. The sets are awe-inspiring, from the pale shanty towns of Paris, to the dim Dr. Frankenstein-esque laboratory of Baldini, to the colorful and exquisite landscape of Richie’s manor (which includes a very tense and still beautiful sequence in the manor’s hedge-maze). The colors are exuberant, the acting is phenomenal, especially on the parts of Whishaw, Hoffman, and Rickman. The script and plot (based off of the original novel Patrick Süskind) keep the story refreshing and surprising, taking it in directions that you wouldn’t imagine. The film (which spans a bit over 2 hours) culminates into a beautiful, moving ending that should leave the more deep-thinking film-lover completely sated. The score is absolutely magnificent as well, capturing moods and atmosphere on every string and bow, gliding you through every emotion the movie throws at you.

I’m not a huge fan of period pieces because they usually fall into the same contrived plots and social-class conflicts of their times, but Perfume is vitally fresh and uses its era to pure perfection. This movie could not work in any other time period, period. I would highly recommend this movie to any filmgoer who has patience, emotions and an eye for true beauty. If you’re looking for pure gore and violence, you won’t find it here. Though the film features some very graphic scenes, as well as lots of nudity, it’s nothing that will get an 80s horror buff "in the mood." But if you want to see an amazing story of loneliness, curiosity and obsession, I would highly recommend this film. It’s nearly impossible to not enjoy. So check it out and I guarantee that within the first ten minutes, it will already have you under its smell. I mean...spell.

5/5 Stars

Andrew's Hidden Message: Stanley Kubrick said that the novel Perfume was unfilmable. I wish someone would have told him that about the screenplay for Eyes Wide Shut. Way to go out with a gang-bang, Stan.


  1. I just saw this movie and I loved it! A very wonderful film with a surprising twist in the end. =)

  2. I don't think any movie will EVER come close to touching me as this movie did. Hands down one of my absolute favourites.