Perfume - The Story of a Murderer
(Das Parfüm - Die Geschichte eines Mörders)

Perfume - The Story of a Murderer (Das Parfüm - Die Geschichte eines Mörder)
Made in: Germany, France, Spain, USA
Language: English
Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Ben Whishaw, John Hurt (voice), Alan Rickman, Dusin Hoffman, Rachel Hurd-Wood
Year: 2006

Synopsis: Based on the novel by Patrick Süskind, the story takes place in 18th Century France. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is born in the sprawling, filthy (and I mean filthy) slums of Paris. He grows up an orphan, and discovers that he has an extraordinary sense of smell. Even from great distances he is able to distinguish the smell of just about anything, whether it be a rock, tree, animal or person.

As he becomes a young man, Grenouille is awestruck by a beautiful young woman (Karoline Herfurth) one evening. More specifically, he is drawn by her scent. After accidentally killing her, he becomes distraught. No, he's not worried that he just killed someone - instead, he's distressed by the fading of her aroma.

And so begins Jean-Baptiste's obsession: to figure out a way to permanently preserve a person's scent, which to him, is the essence of the soul.

He comes across Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), a once-successful perfumer who is fast fading into obscurity. Grenouille impresses the older man with his amazing talent, and becomes an apprentice. From Baldini, he learns that all perfumes are conglomerates of twelve individual scents…but according to legend there exists a thirteenth. The thirteenth is the key to creating an all-powerful, "perfect" perfume.

Grenouille's continuing obsession leads him to Grasse, where he learns more sophisticated methods of preserving scents. While in Grasse, he catches sight of Laura Richis (Rachel Hurd-Wood), the beautiful daughter of the fantastically wealthy Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman). Of course, it is her scent that he is drawn to.

In short time, beautiful young women all over Grasse mysteriously end up murdered. Although horrified and set on the verge of panic, the people of Grasse are completely oblivious to the grand scale of Jean-Baptiste's ultimate plan...

The Good: This is a grand, highly detailed, artistic film that is visually stunning. Director Tom Tykwer has done an amazing job in creating a methodically paced yet intense murder story. Ben Whishaw is phenomenal as the deeply driven protagonist, bringing Jean-Baptiste's obsession to life in disturbingly clear detail.

And although Dustin Hoffman is a little tough to recognize under a puffy wig, he too does a great job pulling off the difficult role of an Italian perfumer (and crucial catalyst for the plot).

The entire cast, in fact, pulls together to give Perfume a thick and heavy atmosphere of realism. Also, the music score is very good.

The Bad: As with most book-to-screen adaptations, not every detail from the page can make it to the screen. At over two hours, this flick is chocked full of details. Yet at the climax, I can't help but feel that the film seems incomplete in terms of Grenouille's character arc.

John Hurt's narration explains it all, but after such a meticulously constructed story it's sort of disappointing to have the film tell, instead of show, exactly what was going on in the main character's mind.

Who would like this film: This is definitely not a popcorn movie, and many of the close-up details of filthy 18th Century France might make you cringe (or even gag). Check this out if you're in the mood for an artistic, near-epic film. For fans of Tom Tykwer, be aware that this is quite different from his previous films (such as Run Lola Run).

Perfume clocks in at around 147 minutes and you'll definitely feel it. It's not graphic, but the film is very bold (and nearly explicit) in its depiction of murder, sexuality, and inappropriate sniffing. So stay away if you're easily offended by bare asses.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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